Tag: "unserved"

Posted October 1, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Fiber-to-the-home service is on its way to three counties in Southeast Georgia. In July, the Midway-based Coastal Electric Cooperative and Darien Communications – a family owned telephone, cable TV, and Internet Service Provider – announced they were teaming up to build a $40 million fiber network. Once the initial network is up and running, 16,000 homes and businesses in the counties of Bryan, Liberty, and Long will have access to high-speed Internet service.

The partnership has given birth to a new co-op entity with Coastal Electric known as Coastal Fiber Inc., which will lease the infrastructure and begin offering retail broadband service as early as January 2022. Construction began this summer with phase one of the project slated to be rolled out over the next four years.

The new partnership will first target 9,800 homes in Bryan County, 6,200 in Liberty County, and 500 in Long County.

Phase 1 Focuses on Underserved County Residents

“The first phase goal is for customers in Liberty County to begin seeing availability in January 2022. The system will be built out in phases from that point with the total buildout by 2030. The service to Bryan and Long counties will be as we build out in phases. No dates for Bryan and Long have been determined yet,” Coastal Electric Communication Coordinator Bethany Akridge told the Savannah Morning News.

“The service in Bryan County, for example, depends on where you live. There is broadband available in the more populated areas because it is more profitable for companies,” Akridge said. “The reason the cooperative is involved is because there is a need, so we are stepping in to fill that need where those areas are not served or underserved.

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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 11, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

The bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for expanding access to reliable, high-speed Internet service, passed in the U.S. Senate yesterday. The full text of the bill, posted on U.S. Sen. Krysten Sinema’s (D-Arizona) website, appears to be identical to the draft of the bill detailed here by the law firm Keller & Heckman.

For those of us who favor local Internet choice, the bill is a mixed bag filled with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Let’s start with …

The Good

Of the $65 billion allocated in the bill, $42 billion of that is to fund the deployment of broadband networks in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country. The good part of that is the money will be sent to the states to be distributed as grants, which is better than handing it over to the FCC for another reverse auction. The FCC’s track record on reverse auctions is less than encouraging, and state governments are at least one step closer to local communities who have the best information on where broadband funding is needed.

In a nod to community broadband advocates and general common sense, the bill requires States to submit a “5-year action plan” as part of its initial proposal that “shall be informed by collaboration with local and regional entities.” It goes further in saying that those initial proposals should “describe the coordination with local governments, along with local and regional broadband planning processes,” in accordance with the NTIA’s “local coordination requirements.”

And the bill specifically says that when States award the grant money, they “may not exclude cooperatives, nonprofit organizations, public-private partnerships, private companies, public or private utilities, public utility districts, or local governments from eligibility for such grant funds.”

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Posted June 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Today, the U.S. Treasury Department released an updated FAQ clarifying many of the concerns and questions raised by numerous community broadband advocates and members of Congress about the Interim Final Rules (IFR) on how Coronavirus relief funds in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) could be spent on broadband infrastructure.

The day after the rules were first released in May we wrote about how it appeared the IFR, if finalized as is, would significantly limit local communities’ ability to invest in needed broadband infrastructure as the rules initially suggested communities were expected to focus on areas that do not have 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps) wireline service “reliably available.” While broadband experts might have felt comfortable with that language, it would almost certainly confuse lawsuit-leery city attorneys that have to sign-off on projects in areas with widespread gigabit cable broadband access.

Clarification to Make Community Broadband Advocates Clap

What does the requirement that infrastructure “be designed to” provide service to unserved or underserved households and businesses mean?

The updated FAQ sticks to the 25/3 benchmark, stating: “Designing infrastructure investments to provide service to unserved or underserved households or businesses means prioritizing deployment of infrastructure that will bring service to households or businesses that are not currently serviced by a wireline connection that reliably delivers at least 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps of upload speed.”

However, the FAQ goes on to say, “to meet this requirement, states and localities should use funds to deploy broadband infrastructure projects whose objective is to provide service to unserved or underserved households or businesses. These unserved or underserved households or businesses do not need to be the only ones in the service area funded by the project (emphasis added).”

The updated Treasury document further...

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Posted June 15, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The Ohio Senate attached an amendment to the state's budget bill last week which would place significant restrictions on the establishment of new community broadband solutions. It would also, if passed in its current form, place substantial barriers on the operation and expansion of existing municipal networks and other publicly owned and operated projects.

Cities across Ohio have expanded Internet infrastructure in thoughtful, forward-looking ways. These municipal networks have created local government savings, increased speeds, promoted service competition, and powered economic development.

 Some cities have specifically addressed the affordability gap in cities, where many residents have been left behind in a broken market where large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have underbuilt networks, leaving hundreds of thousands of broadband-hungry Ohioans in the digital dust.

This fact sheet [pdf] outlines the many long-term benefits that municipal broadband projects have brought to the state. For instance:

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Posted June 10, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Well, they did it. The Ohio Senate passed its two-year $75-billion budget bill yesterday, which included an amendment that effectively bans the creation of municipal broadband networks without much in the way of public debate.

If the amendment contained in the Senate’s budget survives the budget process, it would make Ohio the first state in a decade to erect barriers to the establishment and expansion of municipal broadband networks.

The vote was along party lines, with 25 GOP State Senators voting in favor of the Senate budget bill and the chamber’s eight Democrats voting against it. With the House having passed its budget bill in April, now the two legislative bodies have until June 30 to negotiate the differences.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the House and Senate budget bills agree on about 60 percent of what’s contained in the Senate spending proposal. Where the House and Senate disagree is on the size of a state income tax cut, school funding, access to subsidized childcare, and broadband.

Ohio on Cusp of Municipal Broadband Ban

When the Senate version of the state budget bill was unveiled earlier this week, it included an amendment that saddles community-owned projects with an array of conditions designed to prevent, stifle, and discourage political subdivisions from building and operating networks that meet the connectivity challenges of its residents. It also takes aim at existing projects which enhance the resiliency of regional communications, telehealth, and public safety operations.

Among the most pernicious consequences would be that it only allows for municipal broadband networks to be built in “unserved” areas of the state, defined as geographic regions where residents do not have access to “broadband service capable of speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and at least 3 Mbps upstream.”

But with about 94...

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Posted June 9, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

The Ohio State Senate is set to vote today on the state budget bill that includes an amendment which, if signed into law, would be a major setback for municipal broadband projects in the Buckeye State and protect the big incumbent Internet Service Providers from competition. 

If passed and signed into law it would make Ohio the first state in a decade to erect barriers to the establishment and expansion of municipal broadband networks. This is a surprising and disappointing move, especially for families who have spent the last year experiencing firsthand the poor Internet connectivity that comes with a broadband market dominated by monopoly providers with no incentive to put the interests of the public ahead of shareholder returns.

Erecting Barriers

When the Senate version of the state budget bill was unveiled earlier this week, it included an amendement with an array of conditions designed to prevent, stifle, and discourage cities from following through with any plan for a city-run network to meet the connectivity challenges of its residents.

The first is a provision that would only allow for municipal broadband networks to be built in “unserved” areas of the state, defined as geographic regions where residents do not have access to “broadband service capable of speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and at least 3 Mbps upstream.”

But a recent Ohio Broadband Strategy report released in 2019 under the direction of Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted pegged the number of Ohioans without access to broadband at just around 1 million. According to the independent broadband tracking firm BroadbandNow, which ranks Ohio 24th in the nation on the broadband access scale, as of June 2021 there were 618,000 Ohio residents who did not have access to broadband with speeds of 25/3 or faster, which means that approximately 94 percent of Ohioans have access to wired broadband with speeds of 25/3 or faster. Restricting municipal networks to only those households with no service whatsoever would effectively preclude new networks in large parts of the state.

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Posted June 2, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

The day after the U.S. Treasury published the Interim Final Rules on how Coronavirus relief funds in the American Rescue Plan Act can be spent, we sounded the alarm because it appears the rules, if finalized as is, would significantly limit local communities’ ability to invest in needed broadband infrastructure.

Last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and eight other members of Congress joined the growing number of community broadband advocates who share those concerns.

On Tuesday, May 25, Sen. Wyden sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging her “to ensure any community with service that falls below (the Treasury’s) own standard of 100 (Megabits per second) Mbps upload and download speeds is eligible for funding.”

Two days later, U.S. Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-California) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) penned a similar letter that was also signed by Wyden and six other members of Congress (U.S. Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney, Lori Trahan, Peter Welch, and Debbie Dingell). Eshoo and Booker have long led efforts to support local initiatives to expand Internet access with community solutions.

25/3 Not Sufficient  

Even as the Treasury acknowledges that families really need 100/100 Mbps service, as the Interim Rules are currently written it suggests communities are expected to focus on areas that do not have 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps) wireline service “reliably available.” About 90 percent of Americans have 25/3 “available” to them by flawed federal estimates, although millions lack service because it is unaffordable or effectively unreliable. And there is no standard for reliability that communities can measure against.

The Eshoo/Booker letter is particularly salient on this point: 

Furthermore, expecting municipalities to determine what areas are ‘reliably’ served by 25/3 is itself a major obstacle. For years, the federal government has failed to develop a map...

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Posted May 24, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

With $3.9 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act on its way to Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan and state legislative leaders have agreed to seize the moment, allocating $300 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion initiatives across the state.

The biggest bulk of the money – $97 million – will go towards funding the building of physical infrastructure with $45 million earmarked specifically for municipal broadband grants.

“The question isn’t how much it’ll cost to bridge the digital divide, the question is how much will it cost if we don’t act right now,” State Senate President Bill Ferguson said at a press conference when the funding was announced.

The bipartisan budget agreement was hailed by Gov. Hogan, a Republican, as an example for the nation demonstrating how “people from different parties can still come together, that we can put the people’s priorities first, and that we can deliver real, bipartisan, common sense solutions to the serious problems that face us.”

One “serious problem” in Maryland, according to a recent Abell Foundation report, is that 23 percent of Maryland households (520,000) do not have a wireline home Internet connection, 40 percent (or 206,000) of which are Black households.

Much of that comes from a lack of affordability and other barriers to adoption. To deal with those challenges, the budget agreement also includes $45 million to subsidize monthly Internet service costs for qualifying families and $30 million to pay for Internet-connected devices for financially eligible households. It also includes an additional $4 million for a new University System of Maryland program to support training and developing curriculum to bridge the digital divide as well as $2 million for digital navigator programs.

Here is an itemized breakdown of...

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Posted May 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Nebraska Senate rejects amendment supporting municipal broadband in spending plan

Michigan Governor vetoes bill granting private ISPs property tax exemptions

Montana, Iowa and Maine channel Rescue Plan funds towards new broadband grant initiatives

 

The State Scene

Nebraska

The Nebraska Senate approved a plan to spend $40 million over the next two years on expanding rural access to high-speed Internet by a unanimous vote on Tuesday, but only after an amendment to L.B. 388 that would have allowed municipalities to offer retail broadband services was rejected.

State Sen. Justin Wayne introduced the amendment, saying that “broadband should be considered a critical infrastructure need and that private telecommunications companies have not stepped up to serve the whole state,” the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

Wayne urged Nebraska Senators “to look to Nebraska's history of public power as a model, as well as to the example of other states that are allowing cities to offer broadband.” The amendment ultimately failed by a vote of 20-24. Wayne assured fellow Senators that he will reintroduce the amendment in the future. 

The bill marked the first time the Nebraska Legislature has suggested using state tax dollars to fund broadband deployment. As it was submitted to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his signature, the bill would annually allocate, until funds run out, $20 million in grants to projects that increase access to high-speed broadband in unserved regions of Nebraska. It would prioritize projects in regions which lack access to Internet service with speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download/3 Mbps upload. Grant recipients would be required to deploy networks capable of providing service of at least 100/100 Mbps within 18 months. 

 

Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed H.B. 4210 on April 14, a bill which would have granted...

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