The city council of Redding, California approved a revised Broadband Master Plan in June that identified a four-phase process to build a 26-mile fiber ring to connect city infrastructure, initiative a pilot project, and eventually connect all homes and businesses to municipally owned broadband Fiber-to-the-Home infrastructure.
This piece was written by Christopher Mitchell and Ry Marcattilio-McCracken
The second round of Techdirt’s Greenhouse Policy forum lands on the topic of broadband in the age of Covid and brings together a collection of voices speaking to facets of an important conversation. “The triple whammy of limited competition, regulatory capture, and Congressional corruption,” Karl Bode writes in introduction, “has resulted in the U.S. being utterly mediocre (or worse) in nearly every major broadband metric that matters.” Deb Socia and Geoff Millener have contributed to talk about online education, Harold Feld writes about radio spectrum, Terique Boyce talks about New York City’s Master Plan, and Jonathan Schwantes writes about treating broadband like a public utility. We likewise contributed an essay on community broadband and the steps local governments have taken to get citizens connected.
We encourage you to read it over at Techdirt, but will repost it below.
When it comes to the goal of ensuring all Americans have affordable and reliable Internet access, we are pretty much stalled. Sure, the FCC will make noise every year about our quest to bridge the digital divide, but it has focused solely on for-profit private solutions. And while there are many hundreds of good local companies making important local investments, the FCC has tended to throw the most money at the few extremely big ones (the same big ones that are on the other side of the revolving door at the FCC for most employees, whether staff or political appointees.)
In response to the pandemic, companies like Charter and AT&T have been on their best behavior and done their best to extend connections more widely than they did in normal times. It...Read more
In a new essay published by the Nonprofit Quarterly, Christopher tackles the connectivity gap in the context of the ongoing pandemic and how it could be solved by a variety of proven nonprofit models that are already connecting tens of thousands of Americans efficiently to fast, affordable networks.
See an excerpt below, but check out the whole piece over at the Nonprofit Quarterly:
One of the longest-lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may be the lost education opportunities for millions of children. While the vast majority of children studying remotely are adversely affected, several million students have no home broadband Internet access at all. As a result, they have been extraordinarily disadvantaged. For too many, public schooling has effectively ended.
[S]omewhere between 15 and 41 million Americans cannot buy a reasonable broadband connection today because their home is not served by an ISP. Most, but not all, of these homes are in rural America, and we typically talk about this problem as being one of “access.” Tens of millions more Americans live in a location that’s served by an ISP, but they cannot afford the fees or face other barriers such as lacking a device or digital literacy. This problem is typically referred to as a lack of digital inclusion, or the digital divide, although these terms are often tossed around loosely.
There is no single policy to solve the broadband problems faced by the nation. In most cases, better networks and lower prices would really help, but achieving that would require different strategies in rural or urban areas. Challenges around literacy and online safety/security will be more difficult.
The answer then is the answer now: nonprofit business models. In a nation as large and varied as the United States, a single business model rarely meets everyone’s needs. Universal electricity required some 4,000 municipal electric departments and nearly 1,000 rural electric cooperatives. And it worked. Not because municipal networks and cooperatives are magical, but because they have the right incentives.
Cities face a greater challenge because the stakes are higher. Cable and telephone lobbyists have shaped rural broadband subsidy programs but see an existential threat in programs aimed at improving urban...
As voters went to the polls to cast ballots in the 2020 Presidential election, in two major metropolitan areas residents overwhelmingly approved ballot questions to move forward on exploring how to expand broadband access in their respective cities.
In Chicago, nearly 90% of those who cast ballots said “yes” to a non-binding referendum question that asked: “Should the city of Chicago act to ensure that all the city's community areas have access to broadband Internet?" With 2,034 of 2,069 precincts counted, 772,235 voters out of 862,140 cast their ballots in favor of that question.
That vote came on the heels of the roll out of “Chicago Connected,” a new initiative to bring high-speed Internet service to 100,000 households that do not have reliable access within the nation’s third-largest school district.
Meanwhile, in Denver 219,435 voters, or 83.5% of the city’s electorate, cast ballots in favor of question 2H, which allows the city to opt out of the state’s 2005 state law referred to as SB 152. That law prevents municipalities from building or partnering for broadband networks. Approval of the ballot initiative also grants the city “the authority but not [the] obligation to provide high-speed Internet access." Two other Colorado communities – Berthoud and Englewood – also voted in favor of similar ballot questions, asking voters if they want to opt out of SB 152. In Berthoud, 77.3% of voters cast ballots in support of the question. In Englewood, the opt-out question passed with 79.4% of voters in favor, which will allow the city to provide Wi-Fi service in city facilities.
In the 15 years since SB 152 was passed 140 Colorado communities have opted out with resultant networks like Longmont’s...Read more
This week Christopher brings together Doug Dawson (Owner and President, CCG Consulting), Monica Webb (Head of Marketing Development and Strategic Partnerships, Ting) and returning guest Travis Carter (CEO, US Internet).
The group first discusses Low-Earth Orbit satellite Internet access in the context of SpaceX’s Starlink public beta launch, and what it means for connecting unserved Americans in both urban and rural areas. Then, they dig into the future of cable as a wireline broadband technology, with frank talk about its longevity in the face of fiber as the industry begins talking about the penetration of DOCSIS 3.1 and future moves to DOCSIS 4.0. Finally, Christopher, Doug, Monica, and Travis spend time tackling the question of why we don’t see more small, private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) doing fiber projects in urban areas. They debate, for instance, Right-of-Way issues and the problem of access to capital.
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News stories highlighting the breadth and depth of the digital divide and its impacts in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic have dominated the headlines in recent months, but a new report emphasizes the degree to which dozens of communities in one Canadian province have struggled with connectivity issues for years. The recently released Nunavut Infrastructure Gap Report [pdf] shows what broadband access looks like for the 35,000 or so mostly Inuit residents of the nation’s youngest province, and what solutions exist for closing the gap for tens of thousands who struggle to get online.
Nunavut is the northernmost of Canada’s provinces, made up of two interlocking geographies: the landmass immediately north of Manitoba and east of the Northwest Territories, and the large collection of islands curled around Baffin Bay to the west of Greenland. It has a population barely 1/20th the size of Wyoming (the U.S.’s smallest by population) despite being the second-largest political subdivision by area in North America, and a population density of just 0.05 persons/square mile.
A Host of Infrastructure Gaps
The new report was released by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), an “organization that represents the territory’s 33,000 Inuit and their rights.” It looks to quantify existing infrastructure and obstacles in support of the pledge made by the Canadian government in 2019 to close gaps where they exist around the country. The report covers wide range of projects, but broadband access plays a prominent role in the province’s telecommunications infrastructure gap, especially in light of the nation’s goal to achieve universal 50/10 Mbps (Megabits per second) access by 2030.
Its aim, according to NTI President Aluki Kotierk, is “not so much to draw attention on the deplorable state of infrastructure in our communities, as it is to set the premise for a renewed engagement with our partners on fulfilling the...Read more
In the fall of 2019, when the Kaysville City Council was poised to move forward on a $26 million, 30-year bond to build a municipal-owned fiber optic network, the COVID-19 pandemic had not yet turned life upside down.
Although city officials and advisors had spent 18 months thoroughly exploring options in a planning process City Councilwoman Michelle Barber called “one of the most vetted and open projects that we’ve worked on,” a group known as the Coalition for Responsible Kaysville Fiber created enough pushback to convince the City Council to shelve the plan and defer to a citizen-led ballot initiative.
On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Kaysville voters, in this city of approximately 32,000, will not only cast their ballots in the Presidential election, they will also be asked if they want the city to move forward with Kaysville Fiber. If the ballot initiative passes, it will allow the city to deploy a Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) network.
Currently, Comcast and CenturyLink are the Internet Service Providers (ISP) for most of Kaysville with some areas near the city relying on satellite Internet access. As has been the case in hundreds of communities across the nation that have built out fiber networks, Kaysville city leaders are looking to build a “last mile” fiber network to lower prices and improve services by creating an environment for increased competition.
Proponents are hoping the new “normal” in the face of the on-going pandemic — with the massive rise in virtual classrooms, remote work from home, telemedicine, and online commerce — will help voters see Kaysville Fiber as necessary infrastructure.
“I personally had residents who previously were either unsure of the project or were opposed, which is fine, now they said, ‘Oh I see what you guys were getting at. This is essential,’” City Councilwoman Barber told the Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month. “It’s not fair that some of us can function in the city and some of us can’t. COVID-19 has been a really poignant case study.”...Read more
Vermont Communications Union District ECFiber has been experiencing faster-than-expected growth and will hit eight additional towns in 2021 (including Bradford, Corinth, Fairlee, West Fairlee and Windsor). Vermont Digger also reports that it expects to take on an additional $11 million in debt to finance its expansion in the near future, bringing its total debt to $52 million.
Over the summer, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a new program to bring high-speed Internet service to the alarming number of households who do not have reliable access within the nation’s third-largest school district.
The initiative, referred to as Chicago Connected, aims to provide free high-speed Internet service to approximately 100,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. One of the ground-breaking features of the effort is that it includes funds to enlist the support of a number of Community Based Organizations to assist with enrollment in the program, digital literacy and skills development training.
At the end of September, during a virtual town hall meeting, Mayor Lightfoot said that while CPS was making progress connecting eligible families, they had not yet reached the goal.
“We’re not where we want it to be. And I think part of the difficulty is, even though it’s free, it’s about making sure that families feel safe in signing up,” Lightfoot said. “Currently, we have over 25,000 households that are signed up, and that is the equivalent of almost 38,000 students towards our goal of 60,000 households at 100,000 students.”
How It Works
Using a sponsored service model, Chicago Connected seeks to provide the high-speed connection for up to four years by directly paying for the service for eligible families. The program primarily relies on donations from philanthropic partners, CPS and city funds, with an additional $5 million from the CARES Act to fund the $50 million program. Donations, which includes a $750,000 commitment from former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, will cover the first two years, with CPS paying for the third and fourth years...Read more
At the end of August, Alabama rolled out what has been a unique state-level response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and a decision by every school district to offer remote learning as an option for the current school year. Using $103 million in CARES Act funding, the governor’s office enacted the Broadband Connectivity for Students initiative to help low-income families pay for existing or connect new service via a voucher program that runs through December 31st of this year and is worth, on average, about $400 per family.
To date almost 60,000 vouchers have been redeemed representing more than 100,000 students, and while we would wish to see such a large pot of funds go instead towards permanent connectivity solutions, for thousands of families it’s meant immediate and necessary relief. It also highlights the ongoing importance of fast, reliable, affordable Internet-access for distance learning.
The process began in late July, with the state issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) [pdf] soliciting responses as many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as wanted to participate in the program. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is heading it up, with the state's Department of Education providing the identifying information for households with students on free or reduced lunch. CTC Technology and Energy is serving as contractor (and receiving approximately $3.4 million for its design work and services).
37 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across fiber, fixed wireless, mobile, cable, and satellite service ultimately made the cut to participate in the program. See the full list of ISPs, but it includes a handful of municipal networks and cooperatives we’ve covered in the past, including:
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative
- Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative
- New Hope Telephone Cooperative
- North Alabama Electric Cooperative
- The Electric Power Board...