Tag: "affordability"

Posted September 28, 2021 by Jericho Casper

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress and the Biden Administration passed two federal stimulus relief packages with historic levels of funding for programs devoted to advancing digital equity – the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA). 

In early August, legislators in the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package which continues many of the federal programs started by previous relief packages and includes $65 billion more for expanding high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity. Members of Congress returned from their summer break on September 20th and U.S. House Representatives are expected to vote on the infrastructure relief bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, on September 30th.

This guide consolidates the different funding opportunities made available through various relief packages to assist communities interested in accessing federal funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion services. It updates ILSR’s Community Guide to Broadband Funding released in April of 2021, which describes programs established under ARPA and CAA in more detail, provides additional resources and answers FAQs.

Important upcoming deadlines are bolded throughout this guide. 

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – Pending 

Though the legislation is pending in Congress, the version of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the U.S. Senate in August of 2021 includes $65 billion for expanding Internet access and digital inclusion initiatives. The Senate bill takes a more holistic approach to addressing the digital divide than previous relief packages, as it includes historic levels of funding for digital skills training. Of the $65 billion:

  • $42.5 billion is being issued as block grants to states to fund the deployment of broadband infrastructure in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country. Funds can also be utilized to deploy affordable networks...
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Posted September 2, 2021 by Maren Machles

As communities across the country are working to bring more affordable, reliable Internet access to their residents, one county in Michigan is gearing up to reach every household within its bounds. On Wednesday night, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners held a Ways and Means meeting and unanimously approved a resolution obligating state funding, including American Rescue Plan funds, to several initiatives, with $14.6 million dollars being allocated to broadband infrastructure. 

Although some communities in the county have made progress in recent years in improving connectivity, thousands of households have been left with broadband at basic speeds. While many are slated to receive service via the recent wins by Mercury Broadband (a Kansas-based ISP, focused on connecting rural America) and Midwest Energy and Communications (MEC, a Michigan electric cooperative) from the 2020 Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, there are still 17 townships scattered across the county with more than 3,000 households that remained unserved. 

Back in May, the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to plug the remaining holes, with the Task Force signalling its general happiness with the responses in the recent meeting. The allocation on Wednesday, if it receives final approval in the near future, will be used to fund the project proposals the Broadband Task Force is currently negotiating with four ISPs: Midwest Energy and Communications, Washtenaw Fiber, Comcast and Charter-Spectrum. 

This vote brings the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force one step closer to its goal of countywide broadband equity. Its $14.6 million dollar plan will either be approved or vetoed by the County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 15. 

The Journey to Countywide Broadband Equity

The Washtenaw County Broadband Subcommittee was formed in 2017 to assess the county’s broadband coverage and make recommendations about how to achieve “countywide broadband equity” by 2022. 

The Subcommittee came out with...

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Posted September 1, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Nestled in Southern California’s Inland Empire is the city of Moreno Valley which goes by the maxim: "People, Pride, Progress!” Now, city officials are looking to live up to the motto by moving forward with a plan to expand Internet access to residents by utilizing 35 miles of fiber assets and 11,000 city utility poles to extend public Wi-Fi access to as many homes as possible.

Home to over 213,000 residents, the city of Moreno Valley is in the beginning stages of developing a Master Plan to extend its existing fiber and wireless networks. The goal of the plan, being completed by Magellan Advisors, is to leverage city-owned assets to expand Internet access and lower the cost of connectivity for public-sector organizations, businesses, and community anchor institutions.

The Master Plan calls for a focus on expanding Moreno Valley’s municipal network in a way that would promote economic development; support education, healthcare, and public safety in the city, and generally improve quality of life for residents living in an increasingly interconnected world. 

Moreno Valley and Magellan, a national consulting firm, are currently in the first phase of assessing the feasibility of the project and developing the Master Plan, which is anticipated to be complete by the end of the year.

Phase 1 of the plan consists of conducting an inventory of broadband assets, interviewing city staff and other major stakeholders (such as larger hospitals, school districts and warehousing groups), conducting online surveys to understand current broadband availability, and putting together a cost-benefit analysis.  

“Putting that whole picture together is what Magellan Advisors is helping us do. They’re taking a look at everything we have - what’s connected, what’s almost connected but not quite. They’re going to develop a Master Plan and give [the city] suggestions as to what we could do, so we can place assets more intentionally,” Steve Hargis, the city’s Chief Information Officer told ILSR in a recent interview.

When and if the final plan is approved, the city will then embark on Phase 2 of the project: secure funding and issue a RFP seeking bids from companies to build the necessary...

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Posted August 25, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Cuyahoga County, Ohio (pop. 1.23 million), encompassing Cleveland and the surrounding area along the bottom edge of Lake Erie, has released a new Request for Proposals (RFP) as part of its ongoing effort to "expand affordable, high-speed broadband services to those lacking Internet access." Sustainable solutions are the focus of the RFP, with particular emphasis given to economically disadvantaged communities and approaches that can not only offer low-cost or free options but convince households to sign up for service.

Proposals are due September 8th at 11am ET.

The RFP is just the latest effort as part of the Office of Innovation and Performance's effort to closing the digital divide in the city and surrounding area. It notes that:

Cuyahoga County is one of the worst-connected communities in the U.S., with 19 percent of households in the County without any type of Internet service, including mobile data plans. About 32 percent of households in the County do not have a broadband connection at home, and 69 percent of these households have annual incomes below $35,000. 

The RFP and two subsequently released addenda (addendum 1 and addendum 2) indicate that a wide variety of options are being considered to address the connectivity challenges across the three different tiers of wireline coverage across the county (see map below. Red areas indicate that less than 60 percent of census tracts have basic broadband, peach areas indicate that 60-80 percent of census tracts have coverage, the yellow and grey hatched...

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Posted August 23, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A month ago we announced the launch of Let's Broadband Together, a coalition of organizations and advocacy groups led by Consumer Reports to collect as many broadband bills as possible and crowdsource the data necessary to fight the trend towards deliberately confusing, obfuscatory broadband pricing in the United States.

If you've had the intention to help out but were looking for that reminder, here it is. Head over to Let's Broadband Together and take a speed tests, submit a PDF of your bill, and answer a few questions. More submissions mean a better the dataset and more comprehensive evidence to support reform. 

Click here to begin, and join Consumer Reports, ILSR, and dozens of other organizations. 

 

Posted July 13, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Internet access in the United States is among the most expensive in the world, both in terms of absolute prices and in cost-per-megabit. Millions of families around the country can't afford to get online, making them even more disconnected from social services, family, and friends, more economically vulnerable, increasingly bearing the burden of the homework gap, and less healthy. 

All of this is a direct result of the broken broadband marketplace, dominated by just a few monopoly providers regularly raising prices to extract wealth from communities. It's also the result of an FCC which has consistently refused to mandate the submission of pricing data from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), or collect it from users themselves. Instead of investing in infrastructure upgrades or innovating, huge providers like Charter Spectrum, AT&T, Comcast, and Suddenlink have sunk time and energy into making our broadband bills harder to interpret, all while raising prices, changing plan terms, and playing around with data caps to pad their profits. 

Let's change that, together.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is joining with Consumer Reports to collect bills from 30,000 households across diverse geographic and demographic backgrounds in an initiative called Let's Broadband Together.  

Let's Broadband Together is asking individuals to take a 7-minute survey and submit a PDF of their broadband bill. The effort will contribute to a valuable dataset which will inform future analysis and support efforts to secure federal legislation or regulation to address these problems.

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Posted July 7, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

As the Biden Administration is working with Senate Republicans and Democrats on a proposed infrastructure deal which now includes a $65 billion federal investment to expand broadband access, the details of how that money should be spent and where those investments should be targeted have yet to be decided.

In a new policy brief, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance looks to provide clarity for policy-makers by exploring the real challenges of America’s connectivity crisis. The brief aims to clear up a common misunderstanding of exactly where the digital divide is located.

Digital Divide is Not Urban Vs. Rural, It’s Both

It does so by explaining why high-speed Internet access is not a challenge confined primarily within rural America. A lack of fast, reliable, and affordable broadband is also a major problem in urban and suburban America.

As the brief details, millions of citizens could subscribe for service right now, if only they could afford it — but they cannot. In fact, most recent municipal broadband systems were built to resolve problems with monopoly excess, not the absence of broadband. Many of the places that appear from the DC as though they have gigabit services actually have unreliable networks that are not getting the job done.

The Case for Prioritizing Local Community Efforts

The brief further elaborates on how America’s connectivity crisis has been created by uncompetitive market conditions, a dilemma that actually presents three interconnected challenges: Access, Affordability and Adoption. 

Finally, the brief makes the case for why the federal and state governments should support local governments in resolving these challenges, rather than continuing to blindly hand out subsidies to the companies with the best government affairs' staff.

Read the...

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Posted June 29, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Municipal broadband advocates in Ohio realized a major victory today when a bipartisan House and Senate conference committee released the final version of their state budget plan that added $250 million to expand broadband access in the Buckeye State and removed the anonymous budget amendment that would have effectively banned municipal broadband networks if passed into law.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, the two chambers are expected to approve the final budget tonight before sending it to Gov. Mike DeWine to be signed into law ahead of the July 1 deadline. 

The vote comes after local officials, community broadband advocates, and angry residents and businesses from across the state spoke out against the last minute municipal network-killing amendment attached to the state budget proposal. State lawmakers were deluged with a flurry of calls, emails, and letters after the budget amendment was revealed two weeks ago without public discussion or debate. 

“We had a real grassroots movement here in Fairlawn. We are thrilled our residents, subscribers and businesses came together and helped us defeat this amendment,” Fairlawn Service Director Ernie Staten told us immediately following the news. “We appreciate that the State of Ohio recognizes that municipal broadband has a place in this state and we hope to continue this great endeavor.”

Staten said when FairlawnGig sent out word to the community about the budget amendment, the response from Fairlawn subscribers was fast and furious. “Over 700 emails were sent by our subscribers saying, ‘Don’t take this (municipal broadband) away!’ I think that’s amazing,” he said.

Will Municipal Networks Be Able To Access New State Grant Money?

While Staten celebrated the removal of the budget amendment, he called the victory “bittersweet,” as municipalities and electric cooperatives in the state do not have access to the proposed $250 million broadband expansion grant program that will be...

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Posted June 16, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

News outlets in Ohio have begun to pick up on something we first reported (here and here, thanks to our local allies), sounding the alarm on an Ohio Senate budget amendment that, if passed, would effectively kill municipal broadband networks and other publicly owned and operated broadband projects in the Buckeye State.

In the days following the unveiling of the budget amendment, the law firm IceMiller released an analysis of the overarching consequences if this language makes it into the final budget, outlining the problems not only for cities, but schools, port authorities, and intergovernmental agreements. The analysis suggests that not only would it discourage future investment, but also require many existing operations to cease altogether, to the detriment of Ohio residents and businesses.

‘Set Ohio Back Decades’

This past Sunday, the Akron Beacon Journal published a story on how the proposed amendment has Summit County officials concerned that it could put the region’s celebrated municipal network FairLawnGig out of business with Fairlawn Mayor William Roth saying the proposed legislation “would set Ohio back decades and make the state less attractive for businesses and economic development.”

The Beacon Journal goes on to report that both Mayor Roth and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro are reaching out to state lawmakers and the governor's office asking that the anti-municipal network language be removed from the proposed budget and are encouraging residents to register their opposition to the amendment with their legislators as well.

‘Vigorous’ Opposition From Local Community Advocates

In conjunction with the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), FairLawnGig has issued a press release in response to the budget amendment in which Ernie Staten,...

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Posted June 15, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast Christopher is joined by Douglas Adams, the CMO of Think Marketing (the firm which handles the marketing operations for the municipal network FairlawnGig in Ohio), Ernie Staten, Director of Public Service for the city of Fairlawn, and Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

The topic of the day is the amendment attached to the upcoming budget for the state of Ohio which, if included in the final version, would make Ohio the first state in a decade to erect barriers to the establishment, expansion, and continuing operation of publicly owned and operation broadband networks. 

Douglas, Ernie, and Angela talk about the wide-ranging consequences of this amendment, which was pushed through without any meaningful public debate, and how it would ban the continued operation of existing municipal networks like those run by the cities of Fairlawn, Dublin, Springboro, Wadsworth, and Hudson. At the same time, it would preclude the establishment of new networks, as well as stymie efforts by counties and other public entities to use existing and build new Internet infrastructure to save local governments money or deploy low-cost options to families stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide.

See our previous coverage here and here. Click here to read a new fact sheet on the benefits that municipal broadband has brought to the state of Ohio, and the widespread impact if the amendment is adopted as-is.

Read our earlier coverage of the amendement here.

Read our new fact sheet [pdf] on all the ways Ohio's community networks have brought value to the state. 

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 listen...

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