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FCC Commissioner Starks Says Commission Investigating the Impact of Broadband and 5G on the Environment : Broadband Breakfast

FCC Commissioner Starks Says Commission Investigating the Impact of Broadband and 5G on the Environment : Broadband Breakfast

Climate change is threatening our lives. It is mind-boggling to see the global outlook. UNICEF recently reported that nearly a billion children in 33 countries are most vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis. A UN report by scientists also found that we face a red code for humanity.

President Biden will join world leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland on November 1. This underscores the need to act. Digital Equity has been our champion for two decades as a pathway to opportunity, and a catalyst to end poverty. Broadband is also a green strategy that can reduce environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions. It is the key linchpin for a triple bottom line strategy to promote sustainability. The 3Es of triple-bottom-line:

  • Prosperous Economy
  • Quality Environment
  • Community Equity

A 2021 State Survey on Broadband Adoption was conducted by the California Emerging Technology Fund in collaboration with the University of Southern California. It found that most employed respondents expect to continue their commutes after the pandemic. This pattern of telecommuting could reduce 55% vehicle trips compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to the survey. The survey also revealed a renewed interest in telehealth as well as online educational opportunities that could save time, money, and reduce yet another car trip.

Californians are facing a shortage of affordable broadband. The survey found that nearly 10% (or more) of the state’s 3 million+ households do not have high speed internet access at home. These findings are a reminder of the importance of strategic planning and investment. Mega-projects like modernizing power grids or building middle-mile internet connections, which are major new federal and state spending initiatives to accelerate progress, will not be realized overnight. Future-proofed planning requires smarter, more efficient networks, affordable home internet programs, forward thinking collaborations between government and private sector, and a willingness to steward environmental and other social challenges by corporations. This must all be done together.

Nearly 7 million households in the United States have signed up for the Emergency Broadband Benefit since spring. They can get an internet subsidy of $50 per month. This includes more than 800,000 households from California. But the need is greater. Congress is expected approve a similar program with a maximum subsidy limit of $30 per month. We are asking internet service providers to immediately advertise the benefit, as they pass the government-backed subsidy directly on to enrolled consumers. State agencies, schools districts, counties, cities, and power utilities also have to promote the discount internet through their social services programs that serve the same population.

California and the rest of the country will invest billions in connecting rural, tribal, urban and poor neighborhoods. Construction of publicly-subsidized middle-mile infrastructure with last-mile deployment is a way to achieve both the best of both worlds. It provides instant Internet access to these households and allows other last-mile providers to also access the middle mile, increasing competition and expanding consumer options to include moderate prices.

Corporations that want to improve environmental stewardship and address social inequalities (often pushed to them by socially aware consumers and investors), should commit to hybrid and remote work models, where practical. This raises the demand for all to have reliable, affordable internet.

California is a national model in environmental policy. Caltrans and California Transportation Commission have long recognized broadband as a green strategy. With a Caltrans grant the Southern California Association of Governments is currently quantifying broadband use to reduce vehicle trips and to encourage virtual trips whenever possible.

We risk our own safety and that of our children and grandchildren if broadband is not considered a key element in maintaining California’s economic, social, environmental and economic progress.

Former California State Sen. Martha M. Escutia was vice president of Government Relations and Special counsel at the University of Southern California. She is also a founding member of California Emerging Technology Fund’s Board of Directors. Reach her at [email protected]

Sunne McPeak is the President and CEO at California Emerging Technology Fund. This foundation, which has 15 years experience in addressing broadband issues in California, is a statewide non profit foundation. Contact her at [email protected]. Broadband Breakfast is the exclusive owner of this piece.

Broadband Breakfast welcomes comments from knowledgeable observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces [email protected]. Broadband Breakfast LLC does not necessarily endorse the opinions expressed in Expert Opinion pieces.

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