Cities and towns all over Massachusetts are looking for alternatives to the big incumbent Internet Service Providers in their communities as citizens across the Commonwealth have grown weary of the high-cost, second-rate Internet service – and lack of competition – that plagues markets dominated by monopoly providers. A growing number of local leaders and community advocates are positioning themselves for the possibility of creating municipal telecommunications utilities to build publicly-owned broadband infrastructure.
The USDA’s ReConnect program has disbursed more than $1.5 billion since its inception in December 2018. On the whole, the USDA seems to have done a better job than the FCC of leading to new broadband infrastructure which is fast, affordable, and locally controlled. Much of the money it has given out has gone to community-driven solutions, with Tribes, electric and telephone cooperatives, and local governments applying for and winning awards. The program has also seen partnerships between counties and other public as well as private entities.
On this week’s episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, host Christopher Mitchell is joined by Russ Elliot, the CEO of Siskiyou Telephone in Northern California.
The two discuss the importance of small incumbent providers, which often get lumped in with bigger telecommunications companies that leave rural communities behind when building broadband infrastructure. Small incumbent providers are often the only ones interested in building out to rural areas.
They talk about the broadband-related challenges facing Northern California, from a massive potential investment in middle mile that may not go anywhere, to the impact of wildfires and weather on infrastructure.
Across the Commonwealth of Virginia, a diverse array of regional partnerships have formed between local governments, county broadband authorities, electric and telephone cooperatives, and private ISPs as state broadband expansion efforts continue to advance. With $850 million in state appropriations for broadband connectivity and $1.15 billion in local government and private service providers’ funding matches, the state is on track to invest $2 billion dollars toward broadband expansion in the coming years.
The recently passed infrastructure package is going to drive an unprecented amount of money to broadband projects over the next few years, which means that communities that begin serious planning and preparation now will find themselves in the best place to succeed in the near and medium future. Dozens of cities have announced plans to use Rescue Plan funds to begin surveying, mapping, developing feasibility studies, and contracting high-level designs, signalling a commitment to improving local Internet access and backing that commitment from that flexible pot of funding.
A new report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that the general lack of fiber network coverage across the United States - with barely a third of homes able to choose a fiber option - comes in large part from the domination of the broadband marketplace by incumbent providers who both own and operate the infrastructure that provides Internet access to the vast majority of Americans. It’s a classic market failure, authors Benoît Felten and Thomas Langer argue, where there’s a clear profitable business case for the existence of more fiber access that continues to go unaddressed. At its core, the failure is driven by the attitudes of monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISP) which prefer to reap the profits from existing legacy copper and cable infrastructure rather than invest in new build outs.
From New York City to Newfield in Upstate New York, local officials in the Empire State have kicked off projects to connect the unconnected to high-speed Internet service. The biggest of those projects is underway in New York City as Mayor Bill de Blasio recently delivered an early Christmas present for city dwellers who want to see a term-limit set on the digital divide in the Big Apple.
We are thrilled to welcome DeAnne Cueller to the Community Broadband Networks Initative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where she will serve as the Community Broadband Outreach Team Lead. With the confluence of local, state, and federal energy pouring into finding the right broadband solutions joining an unprecedented amount of money flowing over the next few years, the opportunity exists to move the needle in connecting local broadband champions to each other, as well as the resources and tools they need to build more locally accountable, transparent infrastructure.
ILSR’s Community Broadband Initiative Director Christopher Mitchell recently joined Kimberly Adams on Marketplace Tech to talk about the $65 billion in the infrastructure bill that is being allocated to expanding broadband access. The pandemic exposed many inequities in our economy including the lack of robust Internet connectivity in many rural areas. The infrastructure bill is a start to mending the injustices that have existed in the broadband sector for over a decade.
The key takeaway from the infrastructure bill, Christopher explains, is “that we are going to see unprecedented investment in rural connectivity, and we have multiple years’ worth of subsidies for low-income families, where they don’t earn enough money to be able to afford the connection that may already be available to them.”
Municipal broadband networks have struggled to get a foothold in Washington state given the historical restrictions that have been put on local governmental entities, barring them from offering retail broadband service. But, as state lawmakers lifted those restrictions earlier this year, several PUDs are well-positioned to seize the moment, building on the momentum generated by a collaborative effort led by a publicly owned corporation known as Petrichor.
When the FCC announced the winners of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) last December, many industry veterans were surprised by the appearance of LTD Broadband as the largest recipient of funds. The company managed to snag more than $1.3 billion to serve 528,000 locations across 15 states, but its capability to do so immediately drew skepticism from many (including us).
Now, a little less than a year later, the company's chickens are coming home to roost. In a recent ruling denying the company the expanded Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) status it needs to offer service in RDOF-awarded areas, the Iowa Utilities Board took LTD to task for a history of noncompliance and late payments:
On this week’s episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, Sean Gonsalves joins regular host Christopher Mitchell in a conversation with Michael Maloney, a public finance banker and the Managing Director at D.A. Davidson based in Iowa. Maloney has spent his career working on public financing projects to hope to spur economic development, including broadband.
The three discuss Gonsalves’ recent story on Fort Dodge and how the community’s frustrations propelled a push to build a municipal fiber-to-the-home network.
Back in July, with the support of the Internet Society and a crew of community broadband advocates interested in increasing digital sovereignty across Indian Country, five tribes participated in the first ever Tribal Broadband Bootcamp. In this video, Jessica Engle, IT Director for the Yurok Tribe speaks in more detail about the connectivity challenges her community has faced historically, and how she is returning home from the bootcamp ready to put her newfound knowledge to work.
Join us live on Thursday, November 18th at 5pm ET for Episode 26 of the Connect This! Show, where co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting) to talk about all things related to the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, inside of which is more than $42 billion in broadband infrastructure money in the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.
The panel will tackle all the burning questions you have. How does this fit in with the other pots of infrastructure money? What's the long-term outcome of such a large commitment likely to be? What's the timeline for rulemaking? How can communities put themselves on a path to win grants?
Over the next few years, we will see an upward trend of fiber infrastructure being built (RDOF, privately announced investment from monopoly providers, NTIA $10 billion broadband infrastructure program, and now, the passing of the infrastructure bill). We will need, as a country, more fiber technicians to do this work, but there is a lack of fiber training programs.
To meet this need and in response to dual dilemma of an ever present need for affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband, and the number of citizens that have been dislocated or laid off due to the pandemic, the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology has partnered with Cherokee Nation Career Services (CNCS) and Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reintegration Program to create a fiber technician training program.