Bridging the Digital Divide Requires Technology Neutral Solutions

Bridging the Digital Divide Requires Technology Neutral Solutions

Jennifer A. Manner

Many global leaders from Presidents to Telecommunications Ministers and regulators, have voiced their commitments to solving the digital divide.  However, delivering on that promise, requires government funding.  Despite these good intentions to ensure all people across the globe have access to broadband, the funds to do so are limited and must be utilized efficiently and on a cost-effective basis to help achieve the goal of universal broadband across the United States. 

For example, across the United States, 80% of the population lives on just 3% of the land, and 20% of the population lives on the other 97%.  Other countries have similar breakdowns. Deploying terrestrial technologies, such as fiber, is easy in densely populated  places like cities and highway corridors.  But as the population density decreases in more rural portions of a country, these technologies become increasingly costly to deploy.  In these areas, non-terrestrial technologies, such as satellite and even high altitude platforms, like balloons, make more economic sense.  These technologies can provide wide area coverage without the deployment of costly terrestrial infrastructure and are able to provide the broadband speeds and services that are demanded across the country.  

These very real economics must be considered. If funding for the universal deployment of broadband services across the globe were unlimited, then everyone could have fiber. Yet, the reality is that funding is limited. If a terrestrial technology were offered with a preference — without regard to cost — there simply will not be enough funds to reach everyone, especially in the more rural and remote areas of the globe.  For example, the cost to extend broadband to a cluster of 10 rural locations that are 1.5 miles from the nearest fiber node would be about $95,000 (including materials, labor and equipment). Deploying satellite to those same 10 locations would be approximately $5000.

This is a pivotal moment. As seen by the pandemic for everything from work to school to government to health care, access to broadband is no longer a luxury; it is an important part of the socio-economic fabric of the United States.  We would fail the world if we choose to only fund terrestrial-based broadband services, because the funding – and therefore the service – would only stretch so far.   Proven broadband alternatives, including non-terrestrial technologies, such as satellite, exist and must be part of the solution endorsed by the government leaders.  When we make funding decisions on a technology neutral basis, we can ensure people across the globe win the race to solving the digital divide. 

Jennifer A. Manner is Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at EchoStar Corporation/Hughes Network Systems LLC where she is responsible for the company’s domestic and international regulatory and policy issues, including spectrum management, 5G, IoT and market access.  Prior to this, Ms. Manner was Deputy Chief of the Office and Engineering and Technology and before that Deputy Chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau where she has had a focus on broadband and other related issues. Ms. Manner previously worked as a Principal at ZComm Strategies LLC. 

Before that, Ms. Manner was Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at SkyTerra Communications, LLC, where she handled the company’s domestic and international regulatory and policy issues. Before joining SkyTerra, Ms. Manner served as Senior Counsel to FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy with responsibility for wireless, international and new technology issues.  Ms. Manner joined the Commissioner’s office after working at MCI Communications Corporation, later WorldCom, Inc., as Associate Counsel for Foreign Market Access and then as International Wireless Services and Director of International Alliances.

Prior to this position, Ms. Manner was an associate in the Communications Group at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, L.P. Before joining Akin, Gump, Ms. Manner was an Attorney-Advisor at the FCC.

Ms. Manner has served as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and the Washington College of Law at American University. Ms. Manner has published several books on telecommunications issues including on spectrum and foreign market access, and has written numerous law review and magazine articles.  Ms. Manner holds and has held key leadership roles including in Satellite Industry Association the US ITU Association, the EMEA Satellite Operators Association, in study groups at the International Telecommunications Union including ITU-R Task Group 5/1, as well as serving in leadership roles in federal advisory committees, including as Chair of Working Group 4B on Network Timing Alternative on the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Committee and Chair of Working Group 4, Regulatory Issues of the World Radiocommunication Advisory Committee, as well as Vice Chair of the International Trade Advisory Committee and the International Telecommunications Advisory Committee 8 and a member of the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee.  Ms. Manner is also a member of the Advisory Board of Geeks Without Frontiers.  Ms. Manner also has served on numerous U.S. delegations to international treaty negotiations.

Ms. Manner received her B.A. from the State University of New York at Albany, from where she serves as Co-Chair of the Alumni Board of the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and was awarded the Outstanding Alumni in Political Science Award. She received her J.D. cum laude from New York Law School and LL.M. with distinction from Georgetown University Law Center. Ms. Manner is admitted to practice in Washington, D.C., New York and Connecticut. 

Ms. Manner has also been named as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Media and the Internet by Cablefax for 2018, one of the top 2017 and 208 100 Broadband and Media attorneys by CableFax,  one of the most powerful women in the world by CableFax in 2018, and was awarded the EchoStar 2013 Most Valuable Player Award, the 2012 FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau’s Chief’s Meritorious Service Award, the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award in Political Science from the Rockefeller College, State University of New York at Albany and the 2011 Wireless Communications Association International’s Government Service Award.  

Ms. Manner, a film-maker, was a finalist for her movie at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and has under production her latest film, When Wire Was King, The Transformation of Telecommunications, expected for release in 2020.

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