Tag: "affordability"

Posted February 6, 2023 by Sean Gonsalves

As Los Angeles County officials are working with community coalitions to improve high-speed Internet access in underserved communities across the region, the Digital Equity LA Summit last week focused on the challenges ahead. Front and center: urging state officials to fix the broadband priority maps the state will use to target where to invest $2 billion in state broadband grant funds with the state months away from receiving over a billion additional dollars from the federal BEAD program.

Organized by the California Community Foundation (CCF) and held on the University of Southern California (USC) campus, the summit brought together hundreds of digital equity advocates, state, county, and city officials; many of whom are part of a broad coalition (that includes ILSR) known as Digital Equity Los Angeles whose mission is to bring “equitable access to fast, reliable, and affordable broadband for every Angeleno.”

After morning introductions, Sanford Williams – Special Advisor to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel – gave the morning keynote address. Williams highlighted his work at the FCC and his new role as chief of the agency’s digital discrimination task force, which is charged with combating the kinds of digital discrimination brought to light by a recent Digital Equity LA study that found higher poverty neighborhoods in LA (which tend to be mostly made up of people of color) pay anywhere from $10 to $40 more per month than mostly white, higher-income neighborhoods for the exact same service.

Recent Success, Future Challenges

The summit started off on a high-note with an overview of the successes coalition members advocated for over the past year, including the formation of a new statewide coalition (the California Alliance for Digital Equity) and, to the...

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Posted January 24, 2023 by Karl Bode

LA County is accelerating its plan to deliver affordable broadband access to the city’s unserved and underserved, with an eye toward building one of the biggest municipal broadband networks in the nation. But the county is first taking baby steps, recently announcing target communities prioritized in a pilot program aimed at bridging the digital divide.

In late 2021, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a major new broadband expansion plan. The plan’s first order of business: deliver free broadband to the 365,000 low-income households in Los Angeles County that currently do not subscribe to service, starting with a 12,500-home pilot project.

Last September, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved using a total of $56 million in American Rescue Plan funding to help connect these families to fast, free, and reliable Internet service.

To help coordinate the effort, LA county designated the Internal Services Department (ISD) as the lead agency responsible for managing this and any future projects. The ISD is now working in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to determine which areas of the county should see funding and logistical priority. 

The ISD and LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell recently released a map of priority locations where the County will build low-cost internet for households in the Second District. 

“I joined the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in the height of the pandemic,” Mitchell said in an announcement. “And it became very clear that access to reliable Internet was critical to our success of emerging out of the pandemic. In the Second District, as much as 30 percent of households lack home internet [access]. This is unacceptable, and Los Angeles County is working aggressively to upend this. We are leading the nation on a plan to crush the digital divide.” 

The map indicates that LA County will prioritize low income residents and marginalized communities...

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Posted November 22, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Historically, Enfield was known for its tobacco and peanuts. Today, there’s a new wave cresting in this small rural community in eastern North Carolina.

Thanks to a recent $350,000 investment from Connect Humanity, a start-up Internet service provider (ISP) – Wave 7 Communications – is now expanding its fledgling fixed wireless network to bring high-speed Internet service to nearly a quarter of the town’s 2,300 residents.

“This is in direct response to the need we identified,” Wave 7 CEO and Founder LaShawn Williamson told ILSR this week.

“We were finding customers who had Internet service before, but couldn’t pay the bill. We wanted to help people stay out of broadband debt," Williamson said. "There is an older population here and lots of industry has moved out of town so there is a challenge with poverty. But everyone deserves access to the Internet.”

Creating a Wave of Affordable Connectivity

Before Wave 7 came along, the choices were either SuddenLink, CenturyLink, or nothing. But, as Williamson explained, a number of residents were “paying a lot of money for a little bit of Internet and going into broadband debt.”

It was a recipe for financially-strapped households to be cut off from service and left on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Initially, Williamson wanted to launch Wave 7 in Greensboro where she lives with her husband. In 2018, a tornado hit the city. “The tornado tore through here and knocked out the Internet. It was taking a long time to get back up and running and even when they did the service was frustrating,” she recalled. “So I began to wonder what it would take to start our own Internet company.”

A longtime entrepreneur who runs an event planning, management and marketing business, Williamson began to research how to become a local Internet service provider. The "aha" moment came when she saw a YouTube video posted by Graham Castleton, founder of a consulting service focused on helping public and private organizations bring better broadband to their communities.

Williamson connected with Castleton who led her to Deborah Simpier, co-founder and...

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Posted November 18, 2022 by Karl Bode

The Washington Island Electric Cooperative is preparing to deliver affordable fiber broadband access to long-neglected communities across Washington Island, Wisconsin. The first subscribers are expected to receive service sometime later this month, and the entire island is slated to be upgraded sometime around 2027.

With the cooperative partnering with Quantum Technologies on the fiber deployment, which began in April of 2021 and is expected to be finished by 2027, the first phase will connect key anchor institutions like the police department, schools, town hall, and the region’s visitor centers.

Currently, a single wireless microwave tower connects all island broadband, as locals painfully discovered during a nine-day 2019 outage. As members of the Washington Island Electric Cooperative await the new service, the only options available now are through Centurylink, Frontier DSL, traditional satellite, or next-gen satellite service like Starlink (assuming island residents can even get the service and afford its first month $710 service charge). 

Obtaining better island connectivity has been a long standing battle. The island had flirted with broadband over powerline (BPL) broadband tech, but the technology’s inherent interference issues — and a series of tornadoes that ravaged the area in 2011 — caused the ISP providing the service, Broadband Electric Communications (IBEC), to shut down operations in 2012

Washington Island Electric Cooperative aims to connect roughly 225 homes or so a year on the 125 square mile island until the project is completed in 2027. Once completed, the island’s approximately 700 local residents will have access to symmetrical speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $59.95 a month, and symmetrical speeds of 1 Gigabit per second for upload/download speeds of 100 megabytes per second for $89.95 a month.

“These are not ‘teaser’ rates and should remain stable so...

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Posted November 15, 2022 by Karl Bode

In 2020, New York City officials unveiled a massive new broadband proposal they promised would dramatically reshape affordable broadband access in the city.

Instead, the program has been steadily and quietly dismantled, replaced by a variety of costly half-measures that critics say don’t solve the actual, underlying cause of expensive, substandard broadband.

The New York City Internet Master Plan was ambitious. The plan featured a pilot program designed to bring affordable broadband to 45,000 residents of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings, a major streamlining of broadband deployment bureaucracy, and several initiatives prioritizing subscriber privacy and choice.

At the heart of the proposal was a plan to spend $156 million to create citywide fiber and wireless open access networks in underserved portions of the city that would be open to all competitors. The plan specifically targeted the most underserved parts of the city, given officials estimated it would cost $2.1 billion to deploy such a network city wide. 

“The private market has failed to deliver the [I]nternet in a way that works for all New Yorkers,” the plan said, pointing out that 29 percent of city households lacked broadband, and 46 percent of families living below the poverty line lacked service due to high prices.

City officials predicted that their plan to boost competition would create 165,000 new jobs, result in a $49 billion increase in personal income, and create up to $142 billion in incremental gross city product by 2045 – all while delivering faster, more affordable broadband to 1.5 million city residents currently without access.

But elections have consequences.

In June of 2022, new New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city would be “pausing” the entire initiative for “re-evaluation.” Insiders familiar with the decision making process say the pause was more of an abrupt cancellation, leaving planners and network built partners high and dry after several years of careful preparation and planning. 

“Eleven service providers, many minority-owned, are ready and waiting to...

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Posted October 26, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Update November 2022: A previous version of the ACP Dashboard was based on an incorrect understanding of the Enrolled and Claimed household numbers. At the time, we believed that these two values (as reflected in the publicly available USAC releases) represented an important (and increasingly so) reality where a large number of the households that were eligible and enrolling in the benefit were not using (or claiming) the benefit.

Thus, the data seemed to show that millions of households who had been cleared to use the program were not getting the benefit each month. In the story below, we highlight what looked like gaps in major metropolitan areas, including places like Baltimore, Detroit, Washington D.C., and elsewhere.

After further conversation with administration representatives regarding the ACP data releases, it seems this is not the case. Instead, the difference between Enrolled and Claimed households only reflects the procedure via which ISPs participating in the program are submitting payment claims to USAC at irregular intervals. ISPs have six months to submit data to USAC for reimbursement -  here, according to administration officials, is where this gap originates from. Rather than reflecting enrolled households not using the benefit, instead it reveals where ISPs are waiting (or have failed) to claim households that are in fact participating. Why this seems to be taking place at larger rates in some metro areas as opposed to others, we do not yet know. If you have additional insight, please reach out to use at broadband@muninetworks.org. Once we know more, we will update this story.

To reiterate: according to administration sources, all Enrolled households should be using the benefit, and reflect the best numbers for understanding how much of the fund is being used at present. We have adjusted the dashboard to reflect this, but preserve the original story below.

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ORIGINAL STORY

Since the launch of the Affordable Connectivity Program last January, millions of households have benefitted from the $30/month connection subsidy to help pay for their broadband bills. The program serves as a necessary bridge in a failed marketplace, dominated nationally by a small number of regional monopolies driven by shareholders to...

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Posted September 30, 2022 by Ann Treacy

Harnessing its American Rescue Plan funds, the city of Syracuse is seeking a partner to launch a pilot project as a precursor to creating a citywide municipal broadband network and to support the city’s broader digital inclusion efforts.

In his 2022 State of the City address, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh laid out the vision, recognizing that now is a time of opportunity.

"At no time in the past half century have conditions aligned so favorably for the City of Syracuse," Walsh said. "Population is growing. Graduation rates are rising. Private investment and job creation are again on the upswing. Our city fund balance has grown. The American Rescue Plan provides an unprecedented injection of federal aid — $123 million – to address challenges created and made worse by the pandemic. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework will pour tens of millions into the infrastructure challenges that always seemed just out of reach – roads, water, and broadband."

Syracuse wants to seize the opportunity by investing in both improved telecommunication infrastructure and digital literacy programs.

It has led the mayor’s office to issue a Request-for-Proposals (RFP) for the design, implementation and maintenance of a municipal network that would target households in Syracuse not currently served by the city’s incumbent providers (AT&T, Spectrum, and T-Mobile Home Internet). 

The deadline for submitting proposals is 2:30 pm ET October 11.

Seeking Open Ended Innovative Proposals

Similar to a recent request for proposals from Onondaga County (where Syracuse is the county seat), the city is seeking open-ended and innovative proposals. City officials have adopted a technology neutral approach and are not specifically asking for proposals to build a fiber network as most new municipal broadband proposals involve. Still, the city does have some parameters in mind. 

The...

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Posted September 27, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Pamela Rosales (Training and Community Engagement Manager, National Digital Inclusion Alliance) and Davida Delmar (Digital Inclusion Manager, Amerind). Pamela and Davida talk about their digital inclusion work and how it differs across Tribal communities as compared to rural and urban areas. They also catch Christopher up on what's going on in cities and nationwide in the digital equity space, from how to develop outreach channels during an ongoing pandemic, 2022's Digital Inclusion Week, NDIA's ongoing Digital Navigator Program that is beginning to ramp up, what we can expect to see down the road in terms of needs and resources, and more.

This show is 31 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.

Transcript coming soon. 

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

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control....

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Posted September 20, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Plans for an open access fiber backbone in Erie County, New York (pop. 951,000) are being readjusted after having been stymied by the pandemic. The county will use Rescue Plan funding to cover the cost of building the backbone, which will be owned by the county and operated by ErieNet, a nonprofit local development corporation. The backbone will make connectivity directly available to anchor institutions and enterprise businesses, but the county hopes the project will draw private providers to build out last-mile infrastructure to residents. With the new fiber ring, Erie County seeks to increase both broadband availability and competition in the area. 

The project began in spring 2019, when the county announced its plan for a $20 million open access network, which at that time it was looking to have up and running before 2022. ErieNet’s original plan was a response to an acute need for connectivity among the county’s southern and eastern rural towns, as well as much of Buffalo – despite these areas’ proximity to relatively well-connected wealthier suburban communities nearby. The county is for the most part monopoly domain, served by Charter Spectrum, Lumen (formerly CenturyLink), and in some small patches, Verizon. Verizon has cherry picked wealthier areas like Kenmore, Williamsville, and Amherst, as well as a few blocks in Buffalo by the company’s hub there, but has not found the rural or high-density and low-income areas profitable enough to build to. Relatively smaller providers like Crown Castle and FirstLight have also made infrastructure investments in parts of the county, but do not appear to have expansion plans.

The pandemic stalled Erie County’s buildout plans – supply chain challenges and bureaucracy-related complications have pushed the expected project completion date to 2025, though some customers may be able to connect to the network in 2024. According to the plan, Erie County is poised to become “...

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Posted August 11, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Three years ago, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) ranked Cleveland as the worst-connected city in the United States (with more than 100,000 households).

City leaders are now using its American Rescue Plan funds to make that dishonorable distinction a thing of the past with a plan to invest $20 million to get the “Comeback City’s” digital future rockin’ n rollin’.

Although the city (pop. 383,000), home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, is currently underserved by AT&T, Charter Spectrum, and T-Mobile, earlier this summer the city issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) that “seeks one or more partners” to help bridge Cleveland’s digital divide following a two-phased approach that first addresses the city’s immediate needs before tackling its longer-term strategic goals.

More specifically, the RFP details “the Phase I goals: ensuring that individuals who do not engage online can become full Internet users as quickly as possible, relying on digital adoption and affordable access strategies. (While) the Phase II goals (envision) —ubiquitous fiber optic connections and Smart City deployments.”

Or, as Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb told Cleveland.com:

The first phase is on making sure on the short-term basis we connect as many families as we can to high-speed broadband, and the second phase will consist of making sure we lay fiber all across the city so we can be competitive, not just five years from now, but 20, 30 years from now, as a city and as a region.

Technically, the RFP that was issued is to fully implement the first phase of the city’s vision and set the table for the second phase. Work beyond the $20 million the city has set aside would require the issuance of a second RFP.

Phase 1: Adoption and Affordability

Acutely aware of...

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