Tag: "pandemic"

Posted May 17, 2021 by Maren Machles

The Searsport Broadband Committee is pushing forward with a plan to bring a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to town residents. The committee hopes to hold a special town meeting soon, where residents will be asked to vote on a bond to pay for it. 

Searsport, Maine (pop. 2,600), known for being “the home of famous sea captains” and the “Antique Capital of Maine,” is certainly not an antique when it comes to the town's perspective on the necessity of broadband and the long-term benefits that come from investing in fiber. 

“There’s a saying, ‘it’s future-proof,’” Searsport Town Manager James Gillway told the Bangor Daily News. “It’s so far ahead of what copper wire does. It’ll give us better connectivity, and we would run it, own it, like any other utility. That way, we can control the cost. We can be super competitive.”

The town recently put out an informational booklet to educate residents on what this network would look like. 

The network is estimated to cost between $2.5 million and $3 million, with the town seeking state grants to help cover some of the costs. Residents will have the option to subscribe for $60 to $70/month with speeds going up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps). Early news coverage suggests the town would contract with Axiom Technologies of Machias to be the Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Like many communities we’ve been covering over the course of the pandemic, working from home and distance learning has really put a spotlight on the need for fast, reliable Internet access in Searsport. 

The town received a $13,000 grant that it applied for back in July 2020 to help boost it’s free public downtown Wi-Fi, which the town believes will “set [them] apart and make [them] more of a destination then a rest stop or pass through town.”

Gillway said that they’ve put up a number of free Wi-Fi hotspots to increase Internet...

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Posted May 4, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

As the oldest son of the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie — the Town of Washington, Massachusetts’ most famous resident — built a name for himself as a singer-songwriter by letting folks know, “You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.”

But if you ask the town’s Broadband Manager Kent Lew, there was one thing that was not on the menu in Washington before last year: high-speed Internet connectivity.

That’s no longer the case as the small town of Washington (pop. 549) has been on the vanguard of rural communities in the hill towns of the Berkshires that have built out (or are in the process of building out) Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks to bring gigabit speeds and affordable connectivity for residents for decades into the future.

The Pandemic: Curse & Blessing

“On the eve the Governor announced the (pandemic) shut down in March of 2020, our first Fiber Service Area was ready,” Lew recalled in a recent interview with us. “It was tremendous that we were able to do this just as people really needed it.”

As one of dozens of Western Massachusetts towns working in partnership with municipal utility provider Westfield Gas + Electric (which operates Whip City Fiber) to build broadband infrastructure, it was in 2015 that Town Meeting voters authorized a $770,000 bond issuance to finance half the construction costs of the $1.47 million network. The other half came from state grant funding.

The network design work wrapped up in 2018 with construction beginning in earnest the following year. The First Service Area was set to be lit up in March of 2020 and the entire rest of the network, which passes all 280 premises in town, was completed two months later in May of 2020 with construction crews having deployed 26.5 miles of fiber.

Still, the initial months of the pandemic lock-down, Lew said, was a “very frustrating period. Just...

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Posted April 13, 2021 by Jericho Casper

In the American Rescue Plan Act, Congress and the Biden Administration included a multi-billion dollar appropriation to help expand high-speed Internet access. This guide offers an overview of the different funding opportunities for communities interested in expanding broadband services. As application deadlines vary in some cases and other money must be spent within certain time frames, it is critical for states, municipalities, community organizations, and Tribal governments to start planning initiatives now. 

It’s also worth emphasizing that 18 states still put localities at a disadvantage when it comes to spending anticipated funding effectively by preserving laws that interfere with community investment in broadband infrastructure. Much of this money could also be funneled for other purposes due to a lack of good plans and community engagement. 

The amount of funding flowing into communities is unprecedented. Localities should prepare to spend funds on needed, futureproof infrastructure. This is an historic, once-in-a-lifetime investment in Internet infrastructure and communities who develop a clear, actionable plan and are as ready as possible once the money starts flowing will prosper.

Directory

If you’re a homeowner looking for assistance paying your Internet bill…look to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program or Homeowner’s Assistance Fund

If you’re an HBCU or Minority-serving institution looking to expand Internet access to your students, or if you’re a minority business enterprise or nonprofit organization in the surrounding community...look to the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

if you’re a Tribal government, Tribal organization, or Tribal college or university, including native Hawaiian organizations, education programs and native corporations…look to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

If you’re a city interested in partaking in a public-private partnership…look to the Promote Broadband Expansion Grant Program

If you’re a school or library whose main concern is obtaining remote Internet access devices...look to the Emergency Connectivity Fund.

 

Federal Aid Directly To States, Counties, Localities and Territories

Out of the $1.9 trillion in fiscal relief provided by the...

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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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