Big Thompson Elementary School, located on the far west side of Loveland near Rocky Mountain National Park, now gets gigabit service from Loveland Pulse.
The federal government is about to spend more than $120 million on subsidies that, rather than improving rural connectivity, will make tens of thousands of families worse off.
These funds are part of a 2018 federal program intended to expand rural broadband access called the Connect America Fund phase II (CAF II) reverse auction. The program, in which Internet access providers competed for subsidies, will distribute nearly $1.5 billion over the next 10 years to connect unserved rural residents. But in some communities, the auction may do more to widen the digital divide than diminish it.
While some winning bidders committed to building out high-speed fiber optic networks, satellite company Viasat will rake in more than $120 million in subsidies to continue providing inadequate geostationary satellite connectivity to rural households that are clamoring for something better. Not only does satellite Internet access offer slower speeds, greater latency, and less reliability for a higher cost compared to other technologies, but Viasat’s subsidies are making those areas ineligible for future broadband funds, deterring other providers from building truly high-quality networks. Instead of bridging the digital divide, the process will relegate certain communities to satellite Internet access while others receive ultra-fast fiber and do nothing more than deepen the fissure.
Mo’ Money . . .
The Connect America Fund (CAF) is a multi-phase subsidy program that supports improved connectivity in rural, high-cost areas as part of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC’s) Universal Service Fund. The most recent phase of the program, the CAF phase II reverse auction, auctioned off regions to providers using a complicated formula that prioritized bids for low subsidy amounts and high-quality service.
Previous rounds of CAF mainly subsidized the large incumbents, such as AT&T and CenturyLink, but for the reverse auction, the FCC opened participation to other entities, including non-traditional providers like electric cooperatives. Eligible areas included rural locations where the incumbents had previously refused subsidies (and the accompanying commitment to expand Internet access).
Viasat was one of the largest winners in the CAF II reverse auction...Read more
Matt Rantanen, director of technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association and director of the Tribal Digital Village Network, has been working for years to get tribal communities connected to broadband. In his conversation with Christopher, he talks about his experience with creative wireless solutions, the potential of the Educational Broadband Service (EBS) to get folks connected, and shifting attitudes around the importance of broadband.
“We’re trying to help solve that rural connectivity problem. America’s got a lot of talented people that live outside the city centers, and they just don’t have access to the resources that they need — and a lot of those people are on reservations. So it’s really important to get those people connected.”
Matt’s newest venture, Arcadian InfraCom, is creating new, diverse fiber paths thanks to innovative partnerships with tribal communities. Phase 1 of their plan, scheduled to be completed in 2022, will connect Salt Lake City to Phoenix and Phoenix to Denver, with add/drop locations within the Navajo Nation and throughout Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.
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This show is 34 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.
Read the transcript for this episode....Read more
On May 30th, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signed SB 170, a bill local community leaders had watched for more than a year. The measure will allow municipalities to bond for publicly owned Internet network infrastructure. Advocates, local elected officials, and citizens have been seeking the authority for years. SB 170 may raise some questions as it's implemented, but the bill is significant because it symbolizes this state's decision to expand local authority for broadband investment, rather than limit the power of local communities.
Read the final version of SB 170 here.
A Better Measurement
As we reported more than a year ago, SB 170 sought to make changes in existing law by allowing local communities to bond for Internet infrastructure. The bill sat in committee until last November, when it was amended and picked up again. The final version of SB 170 allows communities to bond for projects that will connect premises that don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC — 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.
Should the definition of broadband at the FCC increase to faster speeds, so will the definition as it applies in New Hampshire. This is a welcome approach as big ISPs around the country have in recent years tried to convince state legislators to reduce the speed definition of broadband in state legislation. Many is the time well-meaning or well-funded state lawmakers decided to use the incumbent-dictated 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps or even 4 Mbps / 1 Mbps in order to appease the likes of AT&T or CenturyLink. Some states, such as New Hampshire, are realizing that such slow thresholds translate into very little investment into the type of Internet access residents and businesses need. Other states can learn from New Hampshire...Read more
Talbot County, Maryland, has issued a Request for Information for Partnership for Deployment of High-Speed Broadband (RFI). Submissions are due no later than September 1st.
Looking For Ideas From Potential Partners
The RFI describes the county’s desire to work with a private sector partner who can bring gigabit capacity (1,000 Megabits per second) to the community. While county leaders prefer Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) they note that the rural character and geography of the region may require a hybrid fiber/wireless solution.
The county plans on offering assistance in obtaining grant funding, providing access to rights-of-way and existing public assets, and easing any partner through the permitting process. The county encourages all types of entities to submit responses, including incumbents, cooperatives, and nonprofit organizations.
This Is Talbot County
Approximately 38,000 people live in Talbot County, which is located on the state’s eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. Both Baltimore and Washington D.C. are 90 minutes away; Easton (pop. approx. 16,000) is the county seat.
Agriculture has been an important part of the county’s economy since European settlers landed there in 1630 and it continues today with corn, soybeans, and poultry. Healthcare is also an economic driver in part due to the high number of retirees in Talbot County. Tourism that centers on the community’s proximity to the ocean also employs many residents.
The Connectivity Situation
Fiber-coaxial networks exist in Talbot County, including a municipal network in Easton and areas in the county where private provider Atlantic Broadband offers Internet access. Many of Atlantic Broadband subscribers are in the bay communities in the western areas.
The RFI states that incumbent Verizon supplies DSL via its copper infrastructure to more populated areas. There is also fixed wireless available in some areas.
The other side of the county is underserved and contains almost 2,800 households and commercial premises. Population density is low but many of the properties have high home values. County leaders want the results of the RFI to address connectivity in this area. An...Read more
Hey, Minnesota communities, are you looking for funding sources for your broadband project? If yes, and you plan on applying for a Minnesota Border-to-Border Development Grant Program, you should be getting your ducks in a row. The application period is fast approaching - July 3 through September 11.
For the 2017 grant period, the state legislature allocated $20 million to the program to expand broadband service in unserved or underserved areas of Minnesota. As a way to help you sort through the application process, the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development will be hosting several webinars early in the application period.
Dates and times for the webinars are:
Monday, June 26, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Central Time)
Friday, July 7, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Monday, July 10, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Wednesday, July 12, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Sign up for the webinars and get the details on eligibility, the process, and resources at the Office of Broadband Development website.
Removing restrictions on community broadband can expand high-speed Internet access in underserved areas, spurring economic growth and improvements in government services, while enhancing competition. Giving the citizens of Chattanooga and leaders like Mayor Berke the power to make these decisions for themselves is not only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.
Nestled in a valley in the Colorado rockies, the city of Montrose has voted overwhelmingly to reestablish local authority over whether to build a municipal fiber network. With nearly 20,000 people, Montrose does have cable service from Charter and DSL from CenturyLink but neither service is meeting local needs.
Virgil Turner, Director of Innovation and Citizen Engagement for the City, joins us in episode 95 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We discuss the need for a better network and how the big cable and telephone companies have failed to meet local needs.
Montrose has all options on the table as it now plans to engage the public and determine how to move forward with possible investments to improve their access to the Internet.
View our other posts on Montrose here.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.
Thanks to Valley Lodge for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Sweet Elizabeth."
In a revealing video about the Internet access problem in rural Minnesota, Annandale City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp below describes her town's struggle with connectivity. The video is the latest in a series on the Minnesota Senate DFL YouTube page intended to shed light on the critical situation in the state.
Hinnenkamp describes broadband in the areas outside of Annadale as "horrific." She goes on to discuss how the community's poor connectivity negatively impacts its economic health. She shares a story about entrepreneurs from an artisan spice business once located in Annandale. The company started with online sales but the owners anticipated opening a storefront in the downtown area of the lake community. After contending with eight outages in three weeks, the new business pulled up stakes and moved to Buffalo.
Buffalo, located only 15 minutes away from Annandale, offers fast, reliable, affordable fiber service to local businesses.
In a February Minnesta Public Radio News article, Hinnenkamp told Dave Peters:
“Broadband is probably the single most important issue in our community right now,” she said. “Our big issue is not that we don’t have service but that we have one provider that has shown little interest in improving it. Broadband is our future."
In a Star Tribune article, Pete Kormanik, the owner of a local McDonald's, expressed his concern as a business owner:
Downloading data for a digital menu board — a task that would have taken 30 minutes at his other restaurants — dragged on for more than four hours.
After delays in processing credit cards, watching training videos and transmitting orders, Kormanik switched to an AT & T antenna. But a cloudy day can slow that service.
“If you can’t stay current with [connectivity], you’re just going to fall behind,” Kormanik said. “And businesses won’t go into those locations.”
Watch the brief interview with Hinnenkamp below or visit the series website to see more interviews. In the words of...Read more
A recent in-depth article from the Keene Sentinel updates us on the status of New Hampshire's HB 286, which would expand bonding authority for local governments. New Hampshire law currently restricts bonding authority for Internet infrastructure to towns with no access to the Internet, but nearly all communities have at least some slow broadband access in a few pockets of town. We have been tracking this bill, most recently four months ago just before it overwhelmingly passed the house. Unfortunately, the bill does not give many options to local governments. It settles to only allow bonding when the local government is not providing retail services, a business model that has only worked well when local governments have expanded very slowly. That said, New Hampshire already has a promising open access network called FastRoads that would allow nearby towns to connect and access the four service providers already using it. Connecting to an already-operating open access network is a much better prospect than having to start one from scratch, particularly in areas with low population density. Nonetheless, we continue to find it counter-productive for state legislatures to limit how local governments can invest in essential infrastructure. We know of no good policy reason for doing so - these limitations are a result of the lobbying power of a few cable and telephone companies that want to preserve scarcity to ensure high profit margins. Kaitlin Mulhere's article, "Broadband access could be improved in NH through new bill," demonstrates the need for better networks in the granite state and notes that Fast Roads is starting to meet those needs in the areas it operates.
People often hear, for example, that 95 percent of the state has access to broadband, she said. But that’s only by including all New Hampshire Internet speeds, some of which fall below the speed considered fast enough to be broadband, which is 4 megabits per second (Mbps). Most of the state, more than half, doesn’t...