About Digital Divide Forum

The Digital Divide is defined simply as those with and those without access to broadband or wireless. However, lately this definition has been extended to also include those who have access, but not to the 25Mbps download/3Mbps upload “quality” speed defined by the FCC. The actual number of people affected by the Digital Divide is somewhat ambiguous, the Pew Research Group estimates around 20 million Americans are affected by the Digital Divide, but a recent study conducted by Ericsson suggests the number is closer to 90 million. As the world embraces its digital revolution, those on the wrong side of the divide will find themselves hugely disadvantaged and shut off from vital services including education, telehealth, and internet banking platforms. The Biden Administration announced a $100 billion Infrastructure Act to connect the unconnected parts of the country. Although this will be undoubtedly beneficial, the digital divide is more than just rural communities without broadband. 70 million of Ericsson’s estimated 90 are thought to be in urban locations, thus reflecting fundamental issues relating to affordability and to digital inclusion. CSPs need to explore all technological options at their disposal to build out networks to all corners of the country; people need to be aware of subsidies to make broadband packages more affordable and communities must work to ensure they have the tools to create an equitable digital ecosystem for all. Join us on this two-day virtual event to see what is being done to bridge the digital divide and to connect the unconnected.

AGENDA
TUESDAY, AUGUST 9

11:00AM-12:30PM ET:

CONNECTIVITY, AFFORDABILITY & INCUMBENT SUPPLIERS – UNDERSTANDING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE IN AMERICA AND WHY IT EXISTS

11:00AM-11:15AM: Keynote
11:15AM-11:30AM: Partner Keynote
11:30AM-12:15PM: Panel Discussion
12:15PM-12:30PM: Closing Partner Keynote

The US Digital Divide reflects more than those without broadband access. It lends itself to, and exacerbates, existing social and economic inequalities. This was made apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which it was estimated the Brookings Institute estimated that 52% of low-income families had no broadband access at all. Additionally, the same study reported that 22% of rural college and 13% of K-12 students were without access cutting them off from learning-from-home. Closing the digital divide is essential to ensure equal opportunity for all members of society. However, in order to close the divide, we first must question why it exists in the first place. From an ROI perspective, the infrastructural costs of laying and maintaining extensive fiber & wireless networks to communities with low population density often proves unprofitable without external financial incentives. In addition, rural communities where such networks do exist often have a low uptake due to high end-user costs. How can CSPs use funding from The Infrastructure Act to construct networks in the “last-mile”? How can end users take advantage of schemes such as Affordable Connectivity & E-Rate to make access more affordable?

AGENDA
TUESDAY, AUGUST 9

2:00PM-3:15PM ET:

BRINGING BROADBAND TO RURAL COMMUNITIES - ECONOMICS, PARTNERSHIPS AND BEYOND

2:00PM-2:15PM: Keynote
2:15PM-2:30PM: Partner Keynote
2:30PM-3:15PM: Panel Discussion

Whilst the intention to bridge the digital divide is there within our industry, the cost barrier remains high. For example, fiber is an attractive option given its high speeds, lower latency and high reliability compared to alternatives. However, the laying of fiber networks is a considerable financial burden, and although federal funding will help, building out into communities with low population densities often drives supplier incumbency. With this in mind, how can we explore ways to incentivize incumbent suppliers to invest in rural communities? To apply for federal funding from the State, communities must first ensure they meet the requirements for application, including having a broadband committee, potential suppliers in mind and a fully costed plan. However, federal funds alone may not be sufficient for all remote communities. What else can the community do in demonstrating to incumbent suppliers that their region is worth the investment? Could community ownership of fiber lines offer a solution, taking away the maintenance burden from the supplier? Could public/private partnerships be the answer to convincing suppliers to build out into rural communities? Can property taxes and revenue bonds be used to change the affordability landscape?

AGENDA
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 10

11:00AM-12:00PM ET:

PROVIDING ACCESS – 5G & FIXED WIRELESS ACCESS – IS THE SOLUTION RIGHT IN FRONT OF US?

11:00AM-11:15AM: Keynote
11:15AM-12:00PM: Fireside Chat

Bridging the digital divide is often considered to be in the realm of emerging technologies, but is the solution already established? Fixed Wireless Access is hardly a new concept, but with ranges covering a 30km radius coupled with their cheap infrastructural costs compared to fiber, could this be the quickest and most cost-effective solution to connect rural communities? FWA promises not only to connect rural homes, but it is a viable option to connect rural businesses. The 5G rollout is only poised to enhance its capabilities, bringing more use cases such as mobile precision agriculture and telehealth more accessible to rural businesses. However, what are the best conditions to deploy a Fixed Wireless Network? What geographical considerations need to be considered before a network can be built. What is the best spectrum for FWA and how do we determine if it is the best solution for a given community?

AGENDA
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 10

2:00PM-3:15PM ET:

PROVIDING ACCESS – MAKING THE CASE FOR FIBER

2:00PM-2:15PM: Keynote
2:15PM-2:30PM: Partner Keynote
2:30PM-3:15PM: Panel Discussion

Fiber has been extremely successful in delivering connectivity in urban and suburban settings but covering that infamous last mile in rural settings remains a challenge. The prohibitive cost of laying down fiber for an often-limited number of end-users has left millions unconnected or with legacy networks that no longer support modern applications. Deployment is not only challenging in remote areas, however. From digging up city streets to overcoming physical barriers in rural and remote areas, rural carriers face an uphill battle in delivering fast fiber networks whilst keeping prices and cost under control. With this context in mind, fiber deployments need a rethink to reach homes and businesses in low population density areas. How can reducing CAPEX and OPEX lead to fiber reaching more businesses? What are the options to future-proof fiber deployments today so that rural carriers, often burdened with smaller budgets, can remain competitive into the future without relaying cables? What are some funding and financing options available to make fiber rollouts to remote areas feasible?

AGENDA
THURSDAY, AUGUST 11

11:00AM-11:15AM ET:

MIND THE SECURITY GAP – DDoS PROTECTION FOR RURAL BROADBAND

The pandemic has ignited a significant rise in cyberthreats of all types - from robocalls to SMS fraud, phishing attacks, ransomware, DDoS and state-sponsored cyber-attacks, often targeting the most vulnerable residence and the most critical community services.

Communities in rural areas are especially vulnerable to DDoS due to the lack of security investment and expertise, the fragmented ecosystem and the vulnerability of the scarce community resources, such as healthcare, that are favorite targets for attackers.

The “cybersecurity gap” is a growing chasm between cybercriminals capabilities and the limited resources of service providers now charged with extending essential broadband connectivity. DDoS protection of service provider infrastructure including carrier grade networking and IPv4 address pools, is needed for ensure service availability for residents, businesses and critical public services.

This keynote from A10 share insights on the growing bank of DDoS weapons used by cybercriminals and provide concrete recommendations on critical investments in DDoS protection that should be made concurrently with their fiber and fixed wireless buildouts.

AGENDA
THURSDAY, AUGUST 11

11:30AM-12:15PM ET:

PROVIDING ACCESS – THE ROLE OF OPEN RAN

11:30AM-12:15PM: Panel Discussion

Open RAN is a popular and important trend in the industry, with many companies already deploying products and Open RAN networks. The ability to pick vendors and build a custom made network is a big advantage for the rural CSPs wanting to build a network which is adaptable, smart, and efficient. For connecting rural communities, Open RAN is advantageous as it can be aggregated in Centralized Units, reducing costs and network complexities. Also, Neutral Host Architecture will also allow for co-localization and less towers. These factors create a vendor pool which is suggested to change the landscape of rural connectivity. Will Open RAN finally be the answer for cost-effective network deployments? Can the expansion of rural Open RAN networks translate into urban settings to address affordability concerns?

AGENDA
THURSDAY, AUGUST 11

3:00PM-4:00PM ET:

CREATING A SUSTAINABLE DIGITAL ECONOMY FOR ALL

3:00PM-3:15PM: Fireside Chat
3:15PM-4:00PM: Panel Discussion

Although providing access to underserved communities and expanding bandwidth is undoubtedly important for closing the digital divide, it only represents one part of the problem. Multiple reports have shed light on the fact that most people affected by the digital divide reside in urban areas, demonstrating unequivocally that there is still a systemic issue relating to affordability and literacy that needs to be addressed. Having a solid digital inclusion plan is an important step to both apply for federal funding and for CSPs to invest in a rural
community – how much value is there in a rural network if the local community is ill-equipped to use and benefit from it? Ensuring a community can both access and navigate the online world is important to closing the digital divide. $2.75 billion dollars is being allocated to ensure all States are equipped to tackle digital inclusion. What needs to be done to apply for this funding? What role can smaller organization and non-profits play in ensuring everyone has the level of literacy required to safely navigate the online world? What are the best practices for delivering digital literacy?