Doug Dawson was on a recent episode of Rural Broadband Today, and though the topic was what we can expect to see from a Biden adminstration on broadband, the discussion ended up ranging much wider. They end up talking about how and we we've come to define basic broadband as 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps) and why that's not good enough today, how the FCC has historically approached its role as regulator, and what the solutions will need to be to bring high-quality, affordable Internet accces to unconnected rural and urban households.
Drawing inspiration from the association of electric cooperatives a century ago, five Maryland and Virginia cooperatives have come together to better pursue projects "aimed at encouraging the expansion of high-speed internet service in underserved rural areas." From Virginia Business, the group is comprised of: "Millboro-based BARC Electric Cooperative and its BARC Connects subsidiary; Arrington-based Central Virginia Electric Cooperative and its Firefly Fiber Broadband subsidiary; Waverly-based Prince George Electric Cooperative and its Ruralband subsidiary; as well as Chase City-based Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and its Empower Broadband subsidiary and Denton, Maryland-based Choptank Electric Cooperative and its Choptank Fiber LLC subsidiary."
The article calls the association the first of its kind, and presumably will promote cooperation and shared use of existing electric infrastructure for quicker, more efficient broadband expansion.
If you have been following our series on the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act, you already know the proposed legislation calls for a $100 billion investment in expanding broadband access and affordability in unserved and underserved parts of the country. In this fourth installment of the series, we explore the part of the bill that contains the bulk of the funding. Of the $100 billion proposed in the bill, $85 billion of it can be found in the Title III - Broadband Access section.
Amending the Communications Act of 1934, Section 3101 of the bill appropriates $80 billion for “competitive bidding systems” to subsidize broadband infrastructure. That is to say, it requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and states, to use “competitive bidding systems” for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bid on broadband deployment projects in “areas with service below 25/25 Megabits per second (Mbps), and areas with low-tier service, defined as areas with service between 25/25 and 100/100 Mbps.” The term “competitive bidding” seems to suggest a reverse auction process, though it hardly makes sense for each state to set up such a system given the logistical challenges. A legislative staffer responded to our email earlier this year saying he believed that language would allow for state programs that solicited applications from ISPs and scored them for evaluation, much like Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program operates. However, he noted that the FCC would interpret that language ultimately. More on this below.
Prioritizing Higher Upload Speeds
It’s worth noting that this part of the bill implicitly acknowledges the insufficiency of the current FCC definition of a minimum broadband speed of 25/3 Mbps. As it stands now, the FCC defines “unserved areas” as parts of the country where there is either no Internet access or broadband speeds under 25/3. This legislation raises the bar and broadens the definition of “unserved areas.” It’s a step in the...Read more
2020 is nearly over, and it's that time of the year we sit back with a cold glass of eggnog and reflect on what was, what is, what might have been, and what will be. In this episode the Community Broadband Bits podcast the MuniNetworks team cranks up Zoom for the zillionth time this month to review our previous years' predictions to see who swung the hardest and missed back in 2019, and who might be hiding a secret gift at prognostication that would put Zoltar to shame.
With the departure of Lisa and Katie, GIS and Data Researcher Michelle Andrews is the only one who must reckon with her predictions head on. Also on the show are two recent arrivals: Senior Writer and Editor Sean Gonsalves, and Senior Researcher Ry Marcattilio-McCracken. Hannah Trostle returns from a short hiatus as well, to offer insight and secretly watch Chris to make sure he hasn't turned into a total despot. During the show we talk state preemption laws, progress by municipal networks, electric cooperatives, and county governments in expanding affordable broadband, the recent RDOF auction, New Hampshire, Sean's water feature, and our favorite stories of the year.
This show is 50 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.
Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or ...Read more
Without good information from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the federal government is essentially shooting in the dark when it comes to determining how to best target the allocation of resources for underserved and unserved communities. Even private sector investments are less efficient because of the lack of good data about broadband availability and pricing. That’s why the second major section of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (AAIA), currently languishing in the U.S. Senate, aims to address the nebulous nature of broadband data at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
In this third installment of our series on the AAIA, we explore the ”Title II – Broadband Transparency” section of the Act, which requires the FCC to adopt rules to gather accurate and up-to-date information from ISPs about broadband service plan prices and subscription rates. It also requires the FCC to collect data that will allow the federal government to assess the resiliency of the nation’s broadband network in the event of a natural disaster or emergency.
Better Data is Needed
Anyone who closely follows FCC news is already familiar with the problems associated with the agency’s broadband coverage maps, which most experts agree overstate actual broadband coverage. Though recent studies indicate there may be as many as 41 million people who lack access to fixed broadband in the United States that meets minimum speed of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), the FCC claims that number is closer to 18 million. It’s a big discrepancy with big dollar implications, as the coverage maps are the basis upon which agencies and states make major funding decisions.
The problem lies with the FCC’s existing Form 477, which seeks service availability data from ISPs. There’s widespread agreement that the form gleans data that is inaccurate, outdated, and misconstrued, as we detail here...Read more
Last week we began our broad overview of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, sweeping legislation that calls for a $100 billion investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved parts of the country, as well as federal funding and coordinated support to meet the myriad of barriers that prevent tens of millions of Americans from having access to affordable and reliable Internet connectivity.
The bill (H.R. 7302) has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and members of the House Rural Broadband Task Force. The Senate version of the bill (S. 4131), which was filed by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, has stalled, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has “has buried the legislation in his graveyard,” in the words of Rep. Clyburn.
In this second-installment of a series of posts exploring the major sections contained in the proposed legislation, we look at the “Title I – Digital Equity” portion of the bill.
New Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG)
The first thing the legislation does is requires the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG) within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The new office, which would be allocated a $26 million annual budget, would run point on federal outreach to communities who lack access, or need better broadband access, via regional workshops, trainings, and the drafting of reports that would provide guidance on best-practices.
The office would also be required to track federal spending on any broadband related expenditures, as well as coordinate with other federal agencies to conduct a study on how affordability factors into households’ lack of connectivity...Read more
Central Virginia Electric Cooperative's broadband subsidiary, Firefly Broadband, continues to make progress on installations in Amherst and Nelson counties for 310 homes using CARES funds. The project is scheduled to go live by the end of this year.
Vermont Communications Union District (CUD) EC Fiber continues mapping efforts in Windsor and Orange counties in anticipation of construction projects there in 2021.
The state of Kansas continues to build momentum with the announcement of a new, ten-year broadband grant program designed to drive network expansion in unserved and economically depressed areas. It will go towards connecting tens of thousands of residents in the state who currently have no or few options for Internet access, while bringing commercial development and connecting farms desperately in need.
Currently, 3.5% of the state’s population, totaling almost 100,000 people, have no Internet access options at all. Students sent home at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic have struggled all summer and fall to get online to do coursework. Both urban and rural areas have continued to face significant challenges over the last decade, and the problem has only increased in recent months. It’s also an issue that has had ramifications for employers like Citizens State Bank in Cottonwood Falls, which has considered cutting local positions and shifting them to places with better Internet access options.
The new Broadband Acceleration Grant Program (BAGP) [pdf] offers lots of provisions for positive progress. It prioritizes low-income, economically distressed areas, as well as those without access to speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps (Megabits per second). This likely means much of the money will end up in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the state (see map). The grant also urges applicants to engage local stakeholders in their communities and build relationships with community anchor institutions, businesses, and nonprofits so as to maximize impact.
Each project is eligible for awards of up to $1 million for each project, requiring a 50% match, and helpfully, the program remains open...Read more
Residents in the village of Tupper Lake, New York, will soon enjoy a municipally owned broadband option to get online. With the awarding of a grant by the Northern Border Regional Commission matched by local funds, a hybrid Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless network will bring faster speeds and more reliable service to homes and businesses in the northern part of the Empire State by the middle of next summer.
The village of Tupper Lake (which sits within the boundaries of the town of Tupper Lake) is located in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains not too far from Lake Placid. It’s an overwhelmingly rural area, and a little more than 3,500 people call the village home.
Last year we wrote about local efforts to improve connectivity options. Back in 2018, a broadband committee was born mostly in response to a lack of Internet access options and complaints about poor service (Spectrum services the region). A study followed that work in 2019, and included a survey of the speeds and prices that homes and businesses in the downtown were paying. Frequent and prolonged outages were a particular problem in Tupper Lake. “We were talking to one business owner who said I was out of service for a day and a half,” Development Authority of the North Country (DANC) General Manager for Telecommunications told WAMC public radio, “[T]hat is almost impossible to do, because now I’ve got to write down credit card numbers and wait for a day to charge people and stuff like that and it just was very difficult.” The Adirondack Daily Enterprise reported that “broadband was the topic of around 30-50% of the emails and calls” to State Assemblyman Billy Jones’ office even before the pandemic.
Connectivity for students was also a driving factor, with a large majority of families with students reporting to the St. Lawrence...Read more