I’m pleased to announce the publication of the Lewis Latimer Plan for Digital Equity and Inclusion, for which I served as volunteer co-author and editor-in-chief. The Plan, commissioned by the National Urban League, is a comprehensive agenda for closing what remains of the U.S. digital divide.
The plan, including a detailed executive summary, can be found here: https://nul.org/program/lewis-latimer-plan
The Latimer Plan occupied much of my time last year, and I’m excited to see it finally in print, just as Washington is beginning to debate infrastructure, a key (though not the sole) component of our plan. Though the Biden approach to network availability differs significantly from the Latimer plan, the goals of the two plans are the same, and it may be turn out that the Latimer approach wins out as the more cost-effective, timely, pragmatic, and bi-partisan. We’ll see!
Today for Harvard Business Review, Larry cautions regulators of potentially transformative technologies to consider likely benefits as well as potential costs, and try to find a balance between the two. With so much of the tech-related news focused on harms, many of them unquantified or carefully studied, we risk losing out on some of the most important breakthroughs still to come from the digital revolution.
Larry and National Broadband Plan author Blair Levin published a white paper this week with the Aspen Institute on the Internet’s many contributions to managing the COVID-19 crisis. The authors propose an initiative to review remaining gaps in the digital transformation of business, a cross between the NBP and the 9/11 Commission. Read their recommendations here:
In the current issue of Marketing Intelligence Review, Larry describes five common mistakes marketers and product developers are making in the nascent Internet of Things and how to solve them.
Given the multi-billion dollar potential for this new technology, overcoming these errors will be crucial for attracting wary consumers, who are already reacting poorly to security breaches, gimmicky products, and unbranded solutions.
The article can be read or downloaded from MIR.
All this week, Larry is participating in a spirited on-line debate for The Economist, taking the “no” side of the question “Should the tech giants be more heavily regulated?” Taking “yes” is author Andrew Keen, whose new book, “How to Fix the Future,” Larry reviewed earlier for The Washington Post.
Voting, which has so far heavily favored the “yes” side, continues through May 6th.
Congress is considering a major spending bill to correct long-standing failures to maintain the U.S.’s crumbling infrastructure. While crumbling roads, bridges, power, water and transit systems should be the focus of any major spending, there’s a strong case to be made for devoting some funds for broadband deployment, particularly in the few remaining locations in the U.S. without service. Owing to high capital costs, these are primarily rural, mountainous, and tribal areas of the U.S., especially in the West.
But the last time Congress tried to close what remains of our digital divide in the 2009 stimulus bill, it divided the funding among three different agencies, imposed little oversight over contractors, and allowed spending in areas where broadband already existed. What’s more, network operators across the country trying to build next generation wired and mobile services are increasingly held back not by cost but by local bureaucracy, delay, inconsistency and petty corruption.
As Congress considers whether and how to address these issues, Blair Levin of the Brookings Institution and I have proposed eight guidelines for future government intervention. These are:
- Limit and carefully control direct investments. Create a broadband acceleration fund, to be used only in areas where there is currently no provider. Determine needed subsidies on a per area basis, and have one agency, preferably the FCC, be the sole administrator. Use general appropriations to fund this program rather than increases to Universal Service fees.
- Severely limit ongoing support. Change the paradigm of small capital support with uncertain on-going operating subsidies to one that strongly favors areas where initial capital would be sufficient to overcome excessively high costs. And use reverse auctions to maximize the bang for taxpayer buck.
- Extend “Dig Once.” Ensure that broadband conduit is installed whenever federal roads are dug up for any reason. Extend the policy as much as possible to state roads and rights of way.
- Address other unproductive barriers to mobile deployments. While local authorities should continue to ensure public safety and other local interests, most of what slows down installation of new equipment promotes no public interest—in fact, the opposite. Treating small cell antenna installation on utility poles and buildings as if they were full-scale cell tower builds serves no public goal. Shot clocks, uniform pole attachment policies and other “best practices” should be established at the federal level.
- Re-engineer government processes that hinder private investment. Many local processes for application, review, and inspection are ad hoc, causing unneeded delays and costs that hold back deployment. For both wired and mobile builds of next generation networks, these must be standardized. The problem is not local regulation so much as local processes—or the lack thereof. And, as Google Fiber and other innovative experiments has shown, what local authorities really need is the right incentives to do the right thing.
- Make investments technology-neutral. Next generation mobile networks and satellite-based solutions will be truly competitive in speed and reliability with fiber, cable, and copper hybrid technologies, which are also improving. Federal programs, including Lifeline, should encourage development and deployment of all broadband technologies.
- Address nonfinancial causes of the digital divide. Availability and price have largely been solved through public and private solutions. Surveys consistently show that those who remain part of the digital divide—rural, senior, and less-educated Americans—are unlikely to take broadband at any price. Public education about the relevance of broadband and training in basic computer usage may not cost much, but without them any money spent will be at least partly wasted.
- Use the bully pulpit to encourage digital want-nots. The National Broadband Plan laid out a vision of America’s broadband future which has largely come to be or will soon, but neither the White House nor the FCC used their bully pulpit to communicate that vision to digital want-nots. The FCC should take an updated plan on the road, along with start-ups and established companies who are making the vision a reality.