Tag: "pandemic"

Posted August 25, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

With the end of the federal Keep Americans Connected pledge and the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive broadband aid, it’s clearer than ever before that local governments are the last line of defense against the digital divide, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.

Some communities have already taken steps to connect their residents, during the global health crisis and beyond. For example, the public school systems in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, decided to cover the cost of broadband subscriptions for low-income students. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, the city’s municipal broadband network is partnering with local schools to provide free Internet access to all students that receive free and reduced-price lunch.

However, in 21 states, legal barriers — often enacted at the behest of corporate telecom lobbyists — prevent local governments from investing in community broadband solutions to close the digital divide.

To help local governments that want to improve connectivity navigate the various opportunities and obstacles, we at the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) have teamed up with the Local Solutions Support Center (LSSC) to produce a number of helpful resources. We previously shared a step-by-step guide for establishing local broadband authority during the pandemic. Now, local officials and community advocates can access two more resources: a guide for local governments to act in the context of the pandemic, and an interactive state broadband preemption map.

View The Digital Divide and the...

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Posted August 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Less than two years after Mississippi lifted its ban on electric cooperative broadband networks, at least 15 of the 25 co-ops in the state have announced plans to provide Internet access to members, with more on the way.

“I would venture to say that there is a higher percentage of co-ops launching [broadband] projects in Mississippi at one time than anywhere else in the country,” said Randy Klindt, partner at Conexon, a consulting firm that is working with several co-ops in the state.

The months in between were marked by two major changes. First, in January of 2019, the Mississippi legislature passed a law that enabled co-ops to create broadband subsidiaries to connect their members. Then a year later, the pandemic hit, highlighting the urgent need for better connectivity and turning the steady stream of cooperative interest in broadband into a veritable flood.

In response to the global health crisis, the state leveraged federal CARES Act money to establish a grant program to fund electric co-op broadband deployment. Through the program, Mississippi awarded $65 million to 15 electric cooperatives to build high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home networks in some of the state’s most disconnected and rural communities, dramatically ramping up the pace of the co-ops’ broadband projects.

“When we started two years ago, I would’ve guessed that you would have had maybe five systems out of 25 in the state that would be to the level where we are now,” Coast Electric Power Association (EPA) President and CEO Ron Barnes said in an interview. “Most people would tell you they were surprised by the speed,” he added.

Opening the Floodgates

Internet access has been lagging in rural Mississippi for years. The state came in at 42 in BroadbandNow’s most recent connectivity rankings. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at least 35% of rural Mississippians do not have access to the Internet at broadband speeds.

In 2018, the state co-op association, Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, brought its 25 member organizations together to gauge their interest in changing the state law so the co-ops could address their rural members' inadequate connectivity. At the time, electric co-ops in the state were prohibited from operating for any purpose other than providing...

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Posted August 4, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Millions of students do not have access to adequate connectivity, but Black, Latinx, and Native children are disproportionately impacted by the “homework gap” — a term that describes the divide between students with access to home broadband and Internet-enabled devices and those without, as well as the challenges that unconnected students face. One study found that children in one out of every three Black, Latinx, and Native American households did not have broadband access at home.

These disparities are even more pressing during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has turned the homework gap into a chasm. Schools across the country cancelled in-person instruction at the end of the last school year, and many continue to make plans for remote learning in the fall. As the nonprofit Common Sense pointed out in a recent report, “The ‘homework gap’ is no longer just about homework; it’s about access to education.”

School districts, cities, and states across the country are distributing hotspots, deploying wireless LTE networks, and paying for students’ Internet plans, among other efforts to quickly address the homework gap. However, many of these solutions are stopgap answers to a systemic problem.

UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Marguía said in a press release:

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the impact of the digital divide on the academic progress of our students, particularly from low-income, Black, Latino, and American Indian households. Roadblocks, including internet connectivity and access to a computer or tablet, have denied students of color the opportunity to meaningfully engage in online learning, resulting in learning loss and widening achievement gaps . . . We cannot continue to overlook the disproportionate impact of this divide.

Mind the Gap

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is frequently credited with coining the term “...

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Posted July 24, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues and the federal response sputters, it’s clear that the responsibility of getting our local economies back on track now lies largely with cities and states.

To help state and local governments responding to the coronavirus, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) released a set of policy recommendations, “From Crisis to Opportunity: Recommendations for State & Local Governments,” in late May. ASBC’s policy suggestions touch on various issues, including Internet access. The guide directs government officials to promote cooperative and municipal networks and remove barriers to community broadband in order to expand Internet access.

ASBC describes the thinking behind the recommendations:

As socially responsible businesses and thought leaders, we have long advocated for a triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. None of these values are mutually exclusive. Together, through local investment, equity and accountability we can rebuild our post-COVID economy stronger, more sustainable, and enduringly just.

How Cities and States Can Rebuild Sustainable Economies

ASBC represents more than 250,000 businesses and advocates for a vibrant, sustainable economy. Read more about the group and its principles on its website.

The recommendations are focused on actions that state and local governments can take because they are on the frontlines of the pandemic’s effect on local economies. “Even with the passage of three federal stimulus bills (with more promised), these leaders will remain in the driver’s seat, and they now need bold ideas,” ASBC explains.

However, ASBC also sees the ongoing crisis as a chance to fix existing issues, saying:

We believe that this moment provides state and local governments an opportunity not only to continue leading the way through this crisis but also in solving the structural problems the federal government has too long neglected . . . Most of our suggested policies effectively provide not only economic stimulus but lasting social, environmental, and public benefit.

Accordingly, while the pandemic has exposed our country’s many digital divides, it did not create them...

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Posted July 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

“An adequate connection is no longer a matter of convenience; it is a necessity for anyone wishing to participate in civil society,” wrote the New York Times Editorial Board in an opinion article published on Sunday. Yet, tens of millions of Americans still lack reliable access to broadband connectivity.

The Times editorial echoed the concerns of many digital equity advocates, who have been ringing alarm bells ever since the Covid-19 pandemic moved most aspects of everyday life online, cutting off anyone without a home Internet connection.

To help bridge the gap, many states and localities have deployed free Wi-Fi hotspots to schools, libraries, and other public spaces. But, as the Times points out, this is not enough — the federal government must do more to connect our communities. “[T]he coronavirus has demonstrated that it is time for the federal government to think more creatively and to act more swiftly to deploy broadband service,” argued the editorial, pointing to legislation that would make an impact, including the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act and the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act.

Digital Divides Threaten Students’ Education

Inadequate Internet access isn’t only a problem in rural areas, where broadband infrastructure isn’t always available. Many city residents also lack home connectivity, due to the high cost of a subscription. The Times explained:

In urban areas, the struggle to get reliable or affordable Internet service disproportionately affects minorities. The cost of broadband makes it three times more likely that households without Internet service can be found in urban, rather than rural, environments, according to John B. Horrigan of the Technology Policy Institute.

In our transition to online everything, many people without broadband access have been left behind. This is particularly true for disconnected students, who must search out public Wi-Fi or forgo their...

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Posted July 10, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In an attempt to hasten broadband expansion in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, politicians in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have now introduced the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act. The bipartisan legislation — introduced in the House in late May and in the Senate just last week — would direct the federal government to speed up the disbursement of $20.4 billion in funding for rural broadband access, in order to connect communities that have been further isolated by the public health crisis.

We wrote previously about a push from electric cooperatives, led by consultant Conexon, calling for expedited rural broadband funds. Having quicker access to the planned subsidies, they argued, would allow the co-ops to connect the unserved rural Americans who are desperately in need of better connectivity to work remotely, attend online school, and participate in telehealth appointments during the pandemic.

Beyond electric cooperatives, the current legislation also has support from advocates and businesses that promote high-quality, often fiber-based broadband networks, but some have raised concerns that the funding process would be reliant on inaccurate federal broadband data.

A Bill in Two Acts

In the U.S. House, Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina and Representative Fred Upton of Michigan introduced the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act, HR 7022, back in May. The two legislators have since been joined by a bipartisan group of more than 30 cosponsors.

Last week, a similarly bipartisan set of senators introduced a version of the legislation, SR 4201, in their chamber as well. The cosponsors in the Senate are Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Mike Braun of Indiana, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Doug Jones of Alabama.

The proposed bills direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to more quickly hand out monies from the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF)...

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Posted July 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

As the pandemic drags on, local governments across the country are looking for ways to connect their residents, who need better Internet access for everything from online education to annual taxes to telehealth appointments. But 19 states still place restrictions on cities and counties that want to invest in broadband expansion, hamstringing their ability to address urgent connectivity needs.

To help people figure out if their community is able to take action, we worked with the Local Solutions Support Center (LSSC) to develop a step-by-step guide for local officials and advocates. The guide includes the various considerations communities must make when developing a Covid-19 broadband response, including the extent of local government authority, state legal restrictions, and declaration of emergency powers.

LSSC describes the guide:

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, local elected officials and advocates alike are asking what they can do for their communities across a range of policies — including to ensure that everyone has broadband Internet access available. This guide can help you determine whether your community has the authority it needs to adopt a particular policy.

View the guide on LSSC’s website or download the PDF below.

“What’s the Policy?”

The guide takes people through the following questions and action steps:

  • What’s the Policy?
  • Is there Existing Authority?
  • Is the Policy Expressly Preempted?
  • Is there a Conflict with State Law or Other Barrier?
  • What is the Extent of Emergency Powers?
  • Demand State Action

For the different steps, the guide offers an explanation, identifies examples from different states, and suggests resources for further research. For example, under “Is there Existing Authority?” the guide directs communities to look at state and...

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Posted June 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Update 7/7/20:

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act, which includes the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, on Wednesday, July 1. The bill is currently in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced his opposition to the legislation, calling it "pointless political theater," and saying, "this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate."

Original article:

Earlier this week, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, a sweeping bill that would take major steps toward closing the digital divide.

We reported on the legislation yesterday, but today we want to take a closer look at the bill text [pdf]. Below, we examine some details of how the act would fund broadband deployment and affordable connections for Americans across the country.

Grand Plans to Build Broadband, Connect the Unconnected

Among the investments proposed in the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, the largest is $80 billion to fund the construction of broadband networks in unserved and underserved areas. That amount dwarfs the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) upcoming $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).

Like RDOF, the legislation calls for a competitive bidding process to distribute the funds. In 2018, the FCC used a bidding process in the Connect America Fund phase II reverse auction. Compared to earlier subsidies granted under that program, which largely went to large monopolies to deploy slow, outdated DSL...

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Posted June 25, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Update 7/7/20:

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act, which includes the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, on Wednesday, July 1. The bill is currently in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced his opposition to the legislation, calling it "pointless political theater," and saying, "this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate."

Original article:

Yesterday, representatives in the U.S. House introduced the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which calls for the federal government to invest $100 billion to ensure all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality Internet access — a need that has been exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The proposed legislation would fund broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas and provide affordable home Internet access, among other measures meant to reduce the digital divide in both rural and urban communities. It would also remove state restrictions on community-owned broadband networks.

“This bill is an historic effort to address all the causes of our persistent digital divide,” said Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, in a statement.

Contact your House representative this week to ask them to support the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act and to sign on as a cosponsor. Find your representative and their contact information using this online search tool. Keep reading for more details on the legislation and a short example of what you can say to your representative.

"A Major Leap" Toward Connecting Everyone

House Majority Whip James Clyburn of...

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Posted October 30, 2009 by christopher

Many publicly owned community fiber networks offer symmetrical connections - allowing subscribers to both upload and download content at the same speeds. This approach treats the subscriber as both a producer and consumer of content (one of the reasons I generally avoid calling a subscriber a "customer" or "user").

Nearly all private network offerings are asymmetrical - DSL and cable are more less subject to constraints that encourage asymmetry, but in the case of fiber, one might assume that private companies are generally more interested in selling content to subscribers rather than encouraging them to create their own.

These companies have generally argued that symmetrical connections are just not necessary because most people are inherently more interested in downloading content than uploading - and note that on existing networks, people tend to download more than they upload.

However, the aggregate data of some 7,000 users on a fast, symmetrical network in Europe suggests that when subscribers have the opportunity, their upload usage balances the downstream usage.

We should continue pushing for increased upstream capacity from providers - especially providers that have to listen to their community. As for absentee-owned companies only interested in profits, well, good luck.

Which brings me to the flu. One would rationally expect that when a profit-maximizing company builds a telecommunications network, it will make different trade-offs when it comes to redundancy and spare capacity. Planning for high-impact, low probability events is not as high on the priority list of a company looking out first for shareholder interests. On the other hand, communities are more likely to be concerned.

Suburban community Lakeville in Minnesota, has been significantly motivated in its attempts to improve fast broadband access by a recognition that an epidemic or pandemic would leave the community paralyzed and its networks unable to cope with a many telecommuters. DSL and cable networks cannot handle a sudden surge in usage.

To some, this appears to be a surprise though the recent GAO Report rightly notes that full fiber networks are less susceptible to falling apart when they are...

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