All Articles Marketing Digital Technology Live from SXSW: FCC addresses national broadband plan and digital divide competition

Live from SXSW: FCC addresses national broadband plan and digital divide competition

3 min read

Digital Technology

Today’s guest post is from SmartBrief reader, telecom guru and 24-year South By Southwest veteran Stephen J. Easley. Steve is vice president for government affairs and general counsel of F2 Technologies, a wireless data technology company, and was formerly vice president and general counsel of American Cellular Corp., a representative to the CTIA Board, and senior technology counsel to MCI Telecommunications before its acquisition by WorldCom.

The FCC finally got its turn to address its national broadband plan to Congress this week at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Unfortunately, it came a mere 36 hours before the detailed plan will be released, and the FCC representatives at SXSW were unable to address a number of detailed questions from the enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience.

Nevertheless, Elana Berkowitz, director of economic opportunity for the National Broadband Task Force, and Dr. Mohit Kaushal, the task force’s health care director, reached out to the Web and development communities gathered in Austin. Berkowitz noted that the FCC Twitter feed is the third most followed in government, after the White House and the CDC, but admitted that their 300K followers paled in comparison to Lady Gaga (we are at SXSW, after all, and the music festival is right around the corner.)

Berkowitz urged attendees to test their own downlink and uplink speeds via the FCC’s new broadband speed app. This will assist the FCC in meeting a goal set out in the new plan: to provide consumers with actual download speed data to compare with providers’ advertised claims, allowing them to make more informed purchases.

Three other plan initiatives aim to make government more transparent and accessible:

  •, a planned site that aims to offer a central location for the government’s vast video archives that will be accessible to the public.
  •, a site that the FCC hopes will offer citizens a secure, central repository for all government data gathered on each us.
  • A site where all Freedom of Information Act disclosures will be posted to allow everyone to review previously released information.

Dr. Kaushal said the plan promotes efforts by private-sector entrepreneurs and developers to come up with solutions such as apps that monitor health and wellness 24/7 and communicate through broadband networks. To that end, he announced a competition to foster digital inclusiveness sponsored by the FCC and the Knight Foundation that will award $100,000 in prizes to creators of the best apps that promote broadband adoption by those on the other side of the digital divide. With expert judges and “people’s choice awards,” this challenge threw down the gauntlet for SXSW attendees.

On the critical issues of increasing competition and promoting affordability, the FCC panelists avoided specifics and tried to assure a skeptical audience that the plan would propose practical steps toward solutions. Dr. Kaushal believes the plan’s goal of securing a further 500 MHz of wireless spectrum, including more unlicensed spectrum such as the 2.4 GHz band, and Universal Service Fund reform will go a long way toward promoting competition and affordability.

Image credit, Tudor Voinea, via Shutterstock