On February 3rd, 2020, the FCC opened the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window, a six month period in which federally recognized Tribes or Alaska Native Villages have the opportunity to apply for licenses to unassigned spectrum over their Tribal lands. This week on the podcast, we have two guests from MuralNet — CEO Mariel Triggs and Edyael Casaperalta, Legal Advisor and Policy Strategist. MuralNet, a nonprofit that focuses on helping indigenous people build their own networks, has been working to spread the word about the Rural Tribal Priority Window.
For remote tribes, free airwaves licenses mean chance to connect by Jon Reid, Bloomberg Law
The effort is aimed at bringing internet connections to rural tribal lands—among the least connected parts of the country. Only 45% of people on those lands have access to fixed internet and LTE download speeds capable of streaming high-definition video, according to the latest FCC data. That leaves more than a million people without access to modern broadband internet service.
In November 2017 we reported that Mount Washington, a town of roughly 200 people in southwestern Massachusetts, had deployed its own infrastructure for broadband service. More than two years after the initial setup, a recent article in Government Technology on municipal broadband in Massachusetts takes us back to the tiny town. We learn how fast affordable, reliable publicly owned Internet infrastructure has brought positive transformation to the citizens of Mount Washington, located in the Taconic Mountains.
You Could Barely Use It
I have stepped down from my role as Policy Advisor at Next Century Cities, an organization that I helped to found and one that I believe is very important to ensuring everyone can use fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access. Nothing is changing for me at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance — I just wanted to reflect on how wonderful my experience was at Next Century Cities.
Next Century Cities members are incredibly innovative and at the forefront of efforts to expand this amazing human enterprise — the Internet — to everyone on terms that make it truly available to them. I am honored to have helped highlight their efforts and share the lessons they have learned to others that have iterated on the models and practices.
Community leaders in Independence, Missouri, have recently brought up the topic of publicly owned networks and indicated that they'd like to learn more about how Independence might fare with a muni. The Examiner recently reported that the issue has arisen during a primary candidate forum, at a Public Utilities Advisory Board (PUAB) presentation, and at a Chamber of Commerce event. Various city officials have expressed interest in the topic.
The idea, Mayor Eileen Weir and Chamber President Tom Lesnak said, came in part from a short trip last fall to Fort Collins, Colorado, which had just established a municipally owned broadband network.
As federal, state, and local leaders increasingly recognize the need to make Internet access universal, they are also realizing that adoption is a separate issue. In an effort to better understand digital equity, the House Subcommittee on Communications & Technology of the Committee on Energy and Commerce recently sat down to listen to experts on digital equity. They discussed common misconceptions, hurdles that make wide-scale adoption difficult, and offered policy recommendations to help us achieve digital equity.
As the USDA continues to award federal ReConnect funds for rural connectivity, we're glad to see that communities in West Virginia are not being ignored. Most recently, the Harrison Rural Electrification Association (HREA) announced that they will dedicate ReConnect grant funding of approximately $18.75 million to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in rural sections of their service area.
Combining Funding and Collaboration
Despite state laws requiring referenda and public reporting, Iowa is home to successful municipal networks, which have been undeterred by these potential stumbling blocks. A bill in the Iowa Senate, however, may present a new barrier discouraging new networks in places where Iowans need it the most. In communities where Internet access companies aren't offering the caliber of services residents and businesses need, the proposal would restrict the possibility of competition.
As we trudge through the snow in Minneapolis, we dream about spring weather and Net Inclusion 2020. It’s one of our favorite annual events and this year folks will gather in Portland, Oregon, to discuss all things digital inclusion. This year, the event is April 7th - 9th.
The annual event, hosted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), brings together people concerned with digital equity and how to expand it. Policy experts, Internet access providers, and community leaders gather together in order to examine the issue of digital inclusion. Some of the conversations and presentations include:
Local, state and federal policies and policy innovations impacting digital equity
Sources of financial and programmatic support of digital inclusion programs
This month, both Frontier Communications and CenturyLink put the FCC on notice that neither company expected to meet deployment milestones related to Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II). In total, rural households in 23 states will have to wait for connectivity that the two large companies were tasked with developing using federal subsidies.
Iowa has multiple rural communities where large national Internet access companies have not invested in high-quality Internet infrastructure. Iowans have adopted a self-reliant approach, however, and one look at the community networks map shows that publicly owned networks pepper the state. Osage, in the north-central part of Iowa, has offered Internet access to the community since 2001. In a recent announcement from the U.S.D.A, we learned that Osage Municipal Utilities (OMU) will receive almost $400,000 to continue their efforts to connect more premises in rural Mitchell County and connect people with fiber Internet access.
According to the announcement:
MuniNetworks.org offers a cache of resources for people who have a particular interest in publicly owned broadband networks. As interest in municipal networks has increased in recent years, connections between people can help those researching and organizing. We know that there aren't many places where our audience can have discussions with like-minded individuals, so the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has now established two mailing lists for folks who share our common interests related to municipal fiber networks.
Talkers, Organizers, a Meeting of the Minds
For folks who want to share thoughts on municipal networks with others, including new developments, news on projects, or trends and topics, they can sign up on our Muni Fiber Discussion mailing list.
The list will be lightly moderated and is not a place to dump links to stories; we expect people to share thoughts and ideas and to debate new issues and important developments.