Tag: "fcc"

Posted April 3, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Like most other aspects of life, the ongoing pandemic has disrupted the federal government’s plans to disburse grants, loans, and subsidies for the construction of rural broadband networks. But unlike the sporting events and concerts that can be put on an indefinite hold, these funds are now needed more than ever by the Internet access providers trying to connect rural households during a time when everything has moved online. Federal agencies, like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), must find ways to manage the challenges caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus and to leverage their funds to support essential networks for families stuck at home.

These agencies’ main rural broadband programs — the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and USDA’s ReConnect — are at different stages, both in their funding cycles and in their response to the Covid-19 outbreak. The pandemic has already led to changes at the USDA, which has extended the ReConnect application deadline and is set to receive additional funds from Congress. Meanwhile, the FCC has yet to alter the upcoming RDOF subsidy auction, but it could speed up the process to address the current crisis, which threatens to linger through the summer.

While more must be done to address the many digital divides exacerbated by the pandemic, federal agencies should at least use existing programs to their full advantage to connect rural Americans during this unprecedented time.

ReConnect Extends and Expands

USDA logo

USDA launched the ReConnect broadband program last year to award more than $1 billion in grants and loans to connect unserved and underserved rural areas. In round one of the program, the agency distributed more than $600 million to 70 providers across 31 states. Many of these awards went to community-owned networks, including rural cooperatives and local...

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Posted April 2, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

For this episode, Christopher was joined by returning guest Jonathan Chambers to discuss the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC's) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which will finance broadband deployment across rural America. Jonathan is a partner at Conexon, which works with rural electric cooperatives to plan, fund, and build fiber optic networks.

The pair review the details of the new RDOF program and how the reverse auction compares to the prior Connect America Fund. Jonathan explains how the funding process rewards the local co-ops, communities, and companies that step up to provide high-quality connectivity. He argues that the FCC should move the auction timeline up to quickly expand Internet access because of the pandemic. They also talk about some issues with RDOF and about the potential for the program to improve broadband access in rural areas.

Previously, Jonathan was on Episode 349 and Episode 321 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss the Connect America Fund.

We'd also like to hear from you. Would you like to hear shorter, more frequent episodes instead of our usual weekly episodes to keep up with the ever-changing times? Let us know by commenting below, by sending an email to podcast@muninetworks.org, or by tagging us on social media.

This show is 39 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of...

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Posted March 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Visitors to libraries across the country are being greeted with signs declaring, “Library Closed,” in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. But increasingly, those words are followed by the ones seen outside Schlow Centre Region Library in State College, Pennsylvania: “Park for Free Wi-Fi.”

As the Covid-19 outbreak pushes almost all daily functions online, libraries, schools, and Internet service providers (ISPs) are finding themselves on the front lines of responding to their communities’ connectivity needs — especially those of students. Nationwide, these broadband first responders are working rapidly to open and deploy public Wi-Fi hotspots that families can access from the safety of their parked cars.

Even before the current crisis, the “homework gap” meant that 7 million school-age children did not have Internet access at home, hampering their ability to get an education. Now, the digital divide is being thrown into even starker relief, as students struggle to access online classes and school districts grapple with equity concerns.

Though it isn’t a permanent solution to the homework gap, these community institutions and providers hope that the emergency Wi-Fi access will give students on the wrong side of the divide a chance to learn while schools are shut down.

Students Trade Desks for Cars

Earlier this week, the American Library Association (ALA) recommended that libraries leave their Wi-Fi turned on and accessible while facilities are closed. In a press release, ALA stated:

America’s 16,557 public library locations are essential nodes in our nation’s digital safety net . . . The COVID-19 Pandemic is disrupting this safety net and spotlighting the persistent digital gaps for more than 20 million people in the United States, including millions of school-age children and college students...

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Posted March 16, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In an effort to keep families connected as schools and workplaces close in response to the novel coronavirus, many Internet service providers (ISPs) are taking steps to make their services more accessible and functional for those of us who are staying home for the foreseeable future.

Some policies are being officially encouraged by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) through Chairman Ajit Pai’s new Keep Americans Connected Pledge. By signing onto the pledge, providers agree to open Wi-Fi hotspots to the general public and to not disconnect or charge late fees to those struggling to pay bills due to the pandemic.

To ensure people have sufficient connectivity during the public health crisis, some ISPs are going beyond the pledge’s requirements by raising speeds, suspending data caps, and offering free Internet access to certain households.

While these efforts will not close all of the digital divides being exacerbated the pandemic, they are an important step toward mitigating the immediate impact on families and businesses.

Keep Americans Connected Pledge

FCC Chairman Pai announced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge last Friday, March 13. The pledge calls on ISPs to make Wi-Fi hotspots publicly accessible and to keep households and small businesses that are facing financial difficulties because of the pandemic connected over the next couple months.

Ajit Pai“As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected,” said Pai in a press release [pdf] issued by the FCC. He also noted the importance of broadband access to enable remote work, online education, and telehealth appointments during periods of “social distancing.”

The press release, available below, shared the text of the pledge:

Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] pledges for the next 60 days to:

(1) not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to...

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Posted February 18, 2020 by lgonzalez

Minnesota's Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program provides funding for deployment of broadband networks in rural regions of the state. The program, which started in 2014, has helped extend necessary high-quality Internet access infrastructure to dozens of communities. Without this week's guest, Matt Schmit, the program would never have become a reality.

Matt and Christopher knew each other long before the program was even an idea — when they were in grad school together — and you can tell they’re friends with a lot to reminisce about. Matt, who is now working on broadband in Illinois, was one of the State Senators who drove the conversation that moved the needle on rural broadband and who led the development of the state program that has accomplished so much in Minnesota. He and Christopher talk about the process and what it was like to go from recognizing the need to creating a program that is making change.

Because of his ability to get results in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Matt is now working in Illinois, where billions of state dollars have been earmarked for infrastructure, which includes broadband deployment. Matt is now Deputy Director at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, where he will work to determine the best way forward in deploying broadband as critical infrastructure. He and Christopher talk about some of the challenges he expects to face, what it’s like working in Illinois as compared to his work in Minnesota, and his hopes for the new state broadband program.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please ...

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Posted February 4, 2020 by lgonzalez

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.

Historically, national Internet access companies have fallen short in bringing their services to people living on tribal lands. A few Tribes have been able to develop their own community networks, but others have found roadblocks when competing with large ISPs for spectrum or for funding. As a result, Tribal communities are some of the least connected in the U.S. Mariel and Edyael discuss how fixed wireless, using the 2.5 Ghz band spectrum is well suited to help solve this persistent problem. They share some of the challenges they’ve faced and offer some tips with deployment and in working to develop policy.

We learn more about the criteria that tribes need to meet in order to apply and how, even if they don’t plan on building their own network, owning access to the spectrum is, nevertheless, empowering. Tribes may not wish to operate a community network, but owning the airwaves above their land gives them some control over how those airwaves are used.

To learn more about the claiming the airwaves over Tribal Land, check out MuralNet’s website here. They're always willing to answer questions and to help with the process.

Legal...

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Posted January 23, 2020 by lgonzalez

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.

Not-So-Great Expectations

When Frontier and CenturyLink accepted the funding in 2015, they agreed to provide deployment of Internet access speed of at least 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. By the end of 2018, they agreed to have at least 60 percent of the premises within each state connected and 80 percent of the premises connected by the end of 2019.

In their letter to the FCC, Frontier claims that of the contracted 774,000+ locations in 29 states waiting for connectivity through the CAF II program, they have deployed to around 596,000 in CAF II census blocks. They calculate that these deployments come to at least 70 percent in each state where they've accepted funding. The company also says that in 13 states they "may not have met" the 80 percent milestone.

The failure was a continuation of last year, when they reported that they had met the 60 percent milestone in 27 states, but had failed to make the grade in New Mexico and Nebraska.

logo-frontier.png Frontier accepted more than $283 million in CAF II funding soon after the FCC redefined broadband to 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps. The CAF II program had also increased minimum connections from 4 Mbps / 1 Mbps to 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps, which seemed outdated almost from the beginning. 

The company has been the subject of investigation in Minnesota and other states, due to complaints stemming from poor services, bad...

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Posted January 14, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

The federal government is about to spend more than $120 million on subsidies that, rather than improving rural connectivity, will make tens of thousands of families worse off.

These funds are part of a 2018 federal program intended to expand rural broadband access called the Connect America Fund phase II (CAF II) reverse auction. The program, in which Internet access providers competed for subsidies, will distribute nearly $1.5 billion over the next 10 years to connect unserved rural residents. But in some communities, the auction may do more to widen the digital divide than diminish it.

While some winning bidders committed to building out high-speed fiber optic networks, satellite company Viasat will rake in more than $120 million in subsidies to continue providing inadequate geostationary satellite connectivity to rural households that are clamoring for something better. Not only does satellite Internet access offer slower speeds, greater latency, and less reliability for a higher cost compared to other technologies, but Viasat’s subsidies are making those areas ineligible for future broadband funds, deterring other providers from building truly high-quality networks. Instead of bridging the digital divide, the process will relegate certain communities to satellite Internet access while others receive ultra-fast fiber and do nothing more than deepen the fissure.

Mo’ Money . . .

The Connect America Fund (CAF) is a multi-phase subsidy program that supports improved connectivity in rural, high-cost areas as part of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC’s) Universal Service Fund. The most recent phase of the program, the CAF phase II reverse auction, auctioned off regions to providers using a complicated formula that prioritized bids for low subsidy amounts and high-quality service.

Previous rounds of CAF mainly subsidized the large incumbents, such as AT&T and CenturyLink, but for the reverse auction, the FCC opened participation to other entities, including non-traditional providers like electric cooperatives. Eligible areas included rural locations where the incumbents had previously refused subsidies (and the accompanying commitment to expand Internet access).

Viasat was one of the largest winners in the CAF II reverse auction...

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Posted December 31, 2019 by lgonzalez

It’s the end of the year once again, which means the Community Broadband Networks Initiative team at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance takes their place in front of the mic for the predictions show. In addition to offering our expectations for 2020, we review what happened this past year and compare it to the predictions we made at this time last year. Get ready for some opinions and laughs.

Once again, Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco and Research Associate Katie Kienbaum weigh in along with Christopher and Lisa. Our newest addition to the team, Michelle Andrews, joins for the first time this year; Michelle is our GIS and Data Visualization Researcher.

We review advancements from cooperatives, the growing interest in municipal projects and open access, and new approaches. We talk about realizations of models we anticipated and also some that took us by surprise. The crew discusses state and federal legislative changes and funding, partnerships, and Christopher even gives Comcast a break. You don’t want to miss this!

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 42 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for the episode.

Listen to ...

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Posted December 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

This week is episode three of the new podcast project we're working on with the nonprofit NC Broadband Matters, whose focus is on bringing ubiquitous broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses in North Carolina. 

The ten episode podcast series, titled "Why NC Broadband Matters," explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png This week, Christopher and his guests explore mapping in our episode titled, "Broadband Mapping Means Money: Understanding How Data Drives Decisions.”

He talks first with Brian Rathbone, Co-Founder of Broadband Catalysts, a consulting firm that works with communities, non-profits, corporations, and governments to expand broadband Internet access. Brian and Christopher dig into federal mapping data and talk about some of the challenges in obtaining accurate data.

Jeff Sural works as Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. He and Christopher take the mapping conversation to the state level. Jeff describes the work of the Office and explains why it's important that the state have the most accurate information possible. He explains state methods that involve citizen input about Internet access to help them get a more accurate picture of connectivity for residents and businesses in North Carolina.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 54 minutes long and can be played on this page...

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