Tag: "federal government"

Posted December 4, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for Episode 281 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Will Rinehart of the American Action Forum in Washington D.C. discusses telecommunications and economics with our host Christopher Mitchell. Listen to this episode here.

Will Rinehart: And I do think that obviously good policy is very very important and that's where you and I agree a lot. You know there's obviously some good policies that can be enacted. There's probably better conversations that could be had in this space and that's also something else that I really do really want to see. You're

Lisa Gonzalez: listening to episode 281 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzales as a research organization. We here at the institute make it a habit to hear all sides of the debate along the way we make connections with people who offer perspectives on policy that differ from ours. We consider these conversations critical as we analyze factors that help us create policy recommendations and resources for local communities. This week Christopher talks with Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum. They got together at the recent broadband community's economic development conference in Atlanta. In this conversation you'll hear the two discuss a variety of topics they talk about the area of telecommunications and economics and the forum's approach. You'll also hear that these different perspectives aren't as black and white as they first appear. Now here's Christopher with Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the community broadband bits podcasts. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Coming to you from Atlanta sitting practically on a runway at the Atlanta airport with Will Rinehart the Director of Technology and Innovation Policy with the American Action Forum. Welcome to the show. Thanks Chris. Thanks for having me. We're at the broadband community's event here. We just had our second panel which is called a blue ribbon panel and general session kind of thing. And you and I are typically brought on as people who have very opposing points of view.

Will Rinehart: [laughs] To... Read more

Posted November 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

Christopher went to Atlanta for the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in early November, and while he was there, he touched base with this week’s guest Will Rinehart. Will is the Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum, a DC nonprofit organization that’s been around since 2009.

Will and Christopher don’t always see eye to eye on issues that affect telecommunications and broadband policy, but both agree that it’s important to have spirited debate to share perspectives. Only by examining issues from different sides can we craft policy that creates lasting benefits.

In this interview, Will describes his organization and his work there. Chris and Will look at compelling issues such as ISP competition, government regulations, and how the FCC’s 2015 upgraded definition of broadband has reverberated in the market. The two get into franchising and ubiquitous broadband, local authority, and connectivity in rural America. It’s a spirited discussion chock-full of issues.

You can tweet to Will, he’s @WillRinehart on Twitter.

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

 

Posted September 6, 2017 by htrostle

Get your applications ready! The United States Department of Agriculture  Rural Utilities Service (USDA RUS) is accepting applications for another round of loans for the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program. This program provides loans of up to $20 million for rural connectivity. The window to apply opened September 1st, and the deadline is September 30, 2017.

Thousands To Millions Of Dollars For Rural Areas

The USDA RUS has at least $60 million available this funding cycle for this program. All loans will be between $100,000 and $20 million. The program will only consider funding projects that offer speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

For this program, the USDA RUS focuses on completely rural communities where at least 15 percent of households do not have high-speed Internet access. To be eligible, these rural areas cannot have more than two incumbent providers or have previously received USDA RUS funding. 

Although the program is specific to rural communities, most organizations are eligible to apply, including tribal governments, local governments, cooperatives, and corporations. No partnerships and no individuals may apply for funding, however, as the loans must go only to organizations.

This is only one of the Broadband programs that the USDA RUS manages. The agency also handles the Community Connect Grants and the Distance Learning & Telemedicine Program. The report “Broadband Loan and Grant Programs in USDA’s Rural Utilities Service” from the Congressional Research Services describes these programs in more detail.

Online Submission Only

The USDA RUS officially began accepting submissions September 1st and organizations have until September 30, 2017, to apply. If you are working in an area with poor Internet service, it’s important to note that this program only accepts applications through an online system. 

Through the online system, RUS staff can review applications and answer questions as they are developed. Once an application is complete and submitted, the staff cannot provide feedback and the organizations cannot edit their applications. 

Learn more... Read more

Posted August 22, 2017 by htrostle

Cell phones as a substitute for home Internet service? That’s what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) suggested in an August 2017 document. Buried within the Notice of Inquiry for the Section 706 Report, the FCC quietly proposed that mobile service could be considered broadband deployment.

In a recent article, Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica dove into why that suggestion is laughable. Mobile Internet service, especially at speeds less than 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, is not equivalent to high-speed home Internet service. 

This proposal also raises concerns for rural communities exploring funding options.

Overstating Rural Connectivity Has Consequences

If the FCC treats mobile Internet access as broadband deployment, rural areas will suddenly look better connected. On paper, the FCC statistics will show that rural America has sufficient Internet access, but the reality in the trenches will remain as it is today - poor connectivity in many rural communities.

A similar situation has already happened in Iowa, where the inclusion of satellite Internet service is now considered broadband access. The interactive FCC 2016 Broadband Deployment Map clearly shows that almost all of Iowa has high-speed Internet access via satellite. One can use satellite service to browse the web, but it has significant limitations, especially when uploading data.

screenshot of Iowa

[Screenshot from August 2017 of FCC June 2016 Deployment Data of Iowa: Yellow = 25 Mbps/3 Mbps Internet access. Full map here.]

Despite the near-universal coverage shown by the FCC, rural communities in Iowa are still building fiber networks because they consider themselves lacking the connectivity they need to compete. In Iowa, it’s important to make sure that the agriculture community gets the high-speed... Read more

Posted August 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

We’ve all been lied to, but when we’re lied to by those we rely on, it’s the worst. Right now, we are all subject to a lie about our Internet access. That lie is rooted in the idea that the best way to move forward is to allow the free market to dictate our access to the Internet, along with the quality of services, privacy protections, and competition.

The big ISPs try to tell us “it’s a competitive market,” then they tell their shareholders competition is scarce. They tell legislators they fear competing against relatively small municipal networks and cooperatives that only serve singular regions but they have subscribers in vast swaths across the country. Federal decision makers tout the benefits of competition, but approve consolidation efforts by a few powerful companies that are already behemoths. This reality is The Big Lie.

What can we do about it? First, understand the cause of the problem. Next, share that understanding. We’ve created this short video to explain The Big Lie; we encourage you to share it and to check out our other resources. Our fact sheets and reports are a great place to start if you’re looking for a way to improve connectivity in your community. Don't forget to check out our other videos, too. 

Posted March 31, 2017 by lgonzalez

After elected officials in Washington, D.C., voted to allow ISPs to invade their customers’ privacy online, leaders in Minnesota took steps to protect constituents. A recent amendment in St. Paul may be setting some new rules for ISPs operating in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Taking Action In Minnesota

Both the state House and Senate approved omnibus bill amendments that prevent ISPs from collecting the personal data resulting from customer use of the Internet. The Senate amendment language, introduced by Ron Latz, reads like this:

No telecommunications or internet service provider that has entered into a franchise agreement, right-of-way agreement, or other contract with the state of Minnesota or a political subdivision, or that uses facilities that are subject to such agreements, even if it is not a party to the agreement, may collect personal information from a customer resulting from the customer's use of the telecommunications or internet service provider without express written approval from the customer. No such telecommunication or internet service provider shall refuse to provide its services to a customer on the grounds that the customer has not approved collection of the customer's personal information.

The body voted 66 - 1 to adopt the language into the Senate omnibus jobs bill, SF 1937. In the House, an almost identical amendment was adopted into HF 2209, their economic development omnibus bill. The Senate version added the last sentence, preventing ISPs from denying service unless a customer allows their ISP to collect data.

After the amendment was included in the bill, Sen. Latz commented that the language was, “about standing up and saying that our online privacy rights are critically important.”

Latz's office told us that, since federal law is silent on this particular issue, the state may enact this... Read more

Posted December 16, 2016 by lgonzalez

Chairman Tom Wheeler will be stepping down as FCC Chairman as of January 20, 2017; the day President Obama leaves office. The decision is not surprising, as FCC chairmen typically leave their position when a new administration takes the helm, but Wheeler had not yet made it official. His departure emphasizes the apprehensive uncertainty that has troubled advocates of municipal networks, local telecommunications authority, and network neutrality, as well as a long list of other public policy concerns that affect our future through technology.

In a statement released on December 15, Chairman Wheeler wrote:

“Serving as FCC Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life. I am deeply grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity. I am especially thankful to the talented Commission staff for their service and sacrifice during my tenure. Their achievements have contributed to a thriving communications sector, where robust investment and world-leading innovation continue to drive our economy and meaningful improvements in the lives of the American people. It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans.”

He Proved Himself

When Tom Wheeler was appointed as 31st Chairman of the FCC in November 2013, we had our concerns. He was following Julius Genachowski, one of the worst FCC Chairs in modern history, who had been appointed in Obama's first term. He had run both cable and wireless industry trade groups, but was strongly defended by Susan Crawford and Gigi Sohn when public interest groups opposed him. He strongly surpassed our hopes for what the FCC could achieve.

Historically, the FCC has been a "captured" regulator, largely operating in favor of the largest telecommunications firms in a revolving door fashion. But Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel listened to grassroots groups as well as industry, making important decisions to encourage more investment and choices in high quality Internet access. They also made historic decisions on prison phone rates and crafted new rules to make sure everyone could use the Internet, regardless of how able-bodied... Read more

Posted November 29, 2016 by KateSvitavsky

The Federal Reserve is responsible for setting interest rates and executing monetary policy in the United States, but many people don’t realize that the agency also has a hand in community development. This summer, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas released a report, Closing the Digital Divide: A Framework for Meeting CRA Obligations, which includes information for banks about funding digital inclusion programs and community networks.

The report, published in July, states:

“Access to broadband has become essential to make progress in all areas of community development—education and workforce development, health, housing, small-business development and access to financial services.”

Closing the Digital Divide is important not only because it provides substantial information for banks, but also because it indicates federal support exists for community-based infrastructure improvements. The report discusses improving Internet access for low and moderate-income individuals and neighborhoods.

Using The Community Reinvestment Act To Improve Infrastructure

From the 1930 until the late 1970s, many banks denied lending to individuals and organizations based on their location. The practice is called “redlining” after the red ink that outlined low-income neighborhoods on a map, and was made illegal when Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in 1977. Under the CRA, banks must to use the same evaluation criteria for all loan applicants regardless of the neighborhood they live in, which expands lending to include low and moderate-income (LMI) individuals. The Federal Reserve assesses banks’ performance under CRA guidelines, which bring about $100 million in capital to low and moderate income areas per year through various projects. Improving Internet access is an increasingly large portion of these initiatives.

In The Weeds

As part of the act, banks must “identify and invest in low and moderate-income communities.” Eligible activities include affordable housing, services geared toward LMI individuals, financing for certain small businesses and farms, and other revitalization efforts. Bringing broadband infrastructure to underserved communities qualifies as... Read more

Posted November 4, 2016 by lgonzalez

According to a 2014 Enforcement Advisory, cell phone and Wi-Fi jamming by state and local law enforcement is illegal by federal law. And yet, persistent allegations of jamming are coming from Water Protectors at the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota. Any jamming by law enforcement to monitor protestor cell phone communications is a serious breach of their Fourth Amendment rights as it amounts to unreasonable search and seizure. First Amendment rights of freedom of speech are also compromised when the method of transmitting reports is purposely blocked.

In order to pressure the FCC to determine whether jamming is happening in North Dakota, MoveOn.org has posted an online petition. From the petition:

Proving or disproving allegations about jamming is very difficult for anyone except the Federal Communications Commission [FCC]. Only the FCC can work with wireless providers, protesters, and local law enforcement to find out definitively what’s going on. The FCC is the only expert agency with authority to require law enforcement to disclose their use of any wireless devices and the only agency with the expertise to assess what is actually happening. If the FCC investigates and finds that there is no illegal jamming happening, then it can settle this concern. If the FCC discovers that there is illegal jamming happening, it has an obligation to expose the jamming and use its power under federal law to order local law enforcement to stop interfering with First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

As Harold Feld writes in his recent blog article, that the presence of IMSI catchers or Stingrays, leaves signs that the Water Protectors are experiencing at Standing Rock - sudden loss of a strong signal at inopportune times, cell phone batteries depleting quickly and inexplicably. Cell phones not only allow them to communicate with each other, but allow them to document law enforcement reaction:

In particular, the ability to upload streaming media documenting confrontations with authorities has been critical in proving whether... Read more

Posted September 27, 2016 by htrostle

We have recently covered state laws preempting local control, especially in North Carolina and Tennessee. State governments are supposed to be “laboratories of democracy” and municipalities are sub-parts of the state. Preemption is ostensibly to prevent problems, but instead these state laws limit local governments’ solutions for ensuring better connectivity.

At the same time, people trust their local government more than their state government to handle problems. That’s the latest finding from Gallup’s most recent Governance Poll, and that makes sense for all of us following community networks.

It's no surprise that trust starts with local community leaders. We have spoken to a number of public officials that acknowledge that when you know your elected official - perhaps live down the street from them or run into them at the grocery store - it's much easier to know that they share your hopes for the community.

Polls, Trends, and Republicans

Gallup’s September 7th-11th Governance Poll found that 71 percent trust their local government to handle problems, but only 62 percent say the same about their state government. This continues a fifteen-year trend of people putting their faith in local government more than in state government.

Seventy-five percent of Republicans stated that they have a "great deal/fair amount" of trust in local government. (Compare to only 71 percent of Independents and 66 percent of Democrats.)  This corresponds with what we found in January 2015 while analyzing our data. Most citywide, residential, municipal networks are built in conservative cities. They trust local governments to solve connectivity problems when the big providers can't or won't deliver.

Municipal network voting patterns

Image of the graph on trust in local and state governments from Gallup

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