Tag: "rural"

Posted April 27, 2022 by Christopher Mitchell

Gigi Sohn is still up for confirmation by the Senate to complete the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - an independent agency in the executive branch of the federal government that has been stuck at a 2-2 split of Democrats and Republicans since President Biden took office. The FCC is supposed to operate with five commissioners, with the party of the President in power having 3 seats. 

She was the obvious choice in December of 2020, when it was clear that Joe Biden would take office. With decades of history in telecom and media-related policy as well as a recent stint as Counselor to Tom Wheeler when he was Chair of the FCC, she would be among the most-qualified people to serve on it since I began working in telecom in 2007. And by among, I mean at the top.

I’ve known Gigi for many years and respected her from the first time I saw her in action. She isn’t a political agent trying to figure out the best path to the top. She has strong beliefs, and she’ll tell you what they are in a wonderful Long Island blur of passion. She respects other beliefs and ideas but she isn’t going to pretend she agrees with you when she doesn’t. 

Maybe my word isn’t that persuasive, because I tend to agree with Sohn on many issues. But a lot of people with far more credibility among conservatives have spoken up on Gigi. So I hadn’t written anything about this because I assumed it would take time but Gigi would get confirmed. Plus, I focus my work outside DC and there is a lot going on that is keeping us busy. 

Gigi was always under fire by the likes of the Wall Street Journal Opinion page, which has made baseless claims about her not being committed to free speech, using tortured logic around denying mergers. If I went off every time that bunch embarrassed the good work of their reporters, I wouldn’t do anything else. 

But then some allies forwarded me claims coming from former North Dakota Senator Heidi...

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Posted April 19, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

Last week, the Golden State Connectivity Authority (GSCA) announced it has entered into formal partnership with the municipally owned open access network UTOPIA Fiber, for the Utah-based owner and provider to design, build, and operate a new open access fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network across the 38 rural counties in the state of California. It's a move that not only offers the chance to bring future-proof connections to millions of rural California households in the near future, but have wide policy and industry implications for open access fiber networks down the road. 

Local Governments Band Together

The Golden State Connectivity Authority is a joint powers authority (JPA) created by the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), which represents more than three dozen rural counties across the state. RCRC seeks to tackle the variety of shared problems that the state's rural communities face by advancing concrete policy solutions across transportation, energy, natural resources, governance, healthcare, and a collection of other arenas. 

The Golden State Connectivity Authority (see image right) is one of its most recent projects, and explicitly aims to improve Internet access via municipal solutions. Its mission is to "assist rural counties in identifying pathways for development of internet infrastructure within their communities, including the construction of municipal-owned and/or operated internet systems, among other options." GSCA leverages the collective power of the RCRC membership for financing efforts, to go after state and federal funds, and to combine the efforts of bringing together leadership to bridge the digital divide for Californians living outside of urban areas. RCRC member counties constitute about 14 percent of the state's population, or about 2.1 million households. 

...

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Posted March 25, 2022 by Karl Bode

Jefferson County, Washington’s Public Utility District (PUD) is just the latest to take advantage of a flood of new grants — and recently-eliminated restrictions on community broadband — to expand access to affordable fiber across the state.  

Over the last few months, the PUD - situated northwest of Seattle, just across the Puget Sound - has been awarded more than $11 million in grants, including $1 million from the Washington State Public Works board, and another $9.7 million in Broadband Infrastructure Acceleration grants doled out by the Washington State Department of Commerce. The funds will help the PUD connect 2,600 homes in Gardiner, Quilcene, Cape George, Discovery Bay, and Marrowstone Island over the next two years.

Locally Operated Infrastructure, Affordable Prices, Fast Speeds

Construction is expected to start later in 2022, with the first subscribers to come online sometime in the first half of 2023. A project breakdown says they hope to provide basic speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $65 a month, and speeds of 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $90 a month. The network will be open access, which means that additional ISPs (including, presumably, those currently offering service on the existing network) will be able to continue into the expanded areas.The PUD plans to offer a low-income tier for $45/month ($15 after the Affordable Connectivity Program subsidy), which is welcome to see.

The Jefferson County PUD currently provides electricity to 19,000 local residents, and water and septic service to an additional 5,000. While the PUD has spent decades building a fiber network that now connects about 50 businesses in Port Townsend, until 2021 Washington state law prohibited them from providing service directly to users, forcing the PUD to lease access to a third-party ISP to provide retail Internet...

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Posted March 15, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

Two years after launching a community-based model to help residents overcome the digital skills challenges that keep so many offline, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) announced in February 2022 that it has received a $10 million grant from Alphabet subsidiary Google to dramatically expand the impact of its Digital Navigator Corps model across the country. The money will allow NDIA to take the Corps nationwide to 18 new rural communities (including Tribal sites), helping thousands of people overcome adoption barriers with the help of local experts. 

Filling a Need at the Onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic

In August of 2020, NDIA first announced the launch of its new venture - the Digital Navigator initiative - to directly reach the many households across the United States that have access to wireline infrastructure but lack the knowledge, skills, trust, or comfort to turn that possibility into an affordable connection. The goal was to help people “get connected with affordable home Internet [access], find affordable computing devices, and learn basic digital skills,” and was borne directly out of the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic the previous spring.

The Salt Lake Public Library and Rural LISC were pilot partners, but NDIA has since worked with more than 20 organizations and communities over the last two years in addition to releasing a cornucopia of resources for cities and anchor institutions that to adapt and use as they see fit, in places as wide ranging as Austin, Cleveland, Denver, Nashville, Philadelphia, Portland, Providence, and Seattle. All of this work has led to refinement of the Digital Navigator model while also helping thousands get and stay online. 

The grant will allow NDIA to expand its reach manyfold, launching a cohesive Navigator Corps across 18 new rural communities, as well as further refine the model...

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Posted February 25, 2022 by Emma Gautier

With nearly 65,000 households unable to connect to the Internet at basic broadband speeds of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), municipalities across the Green Mountain State have risen to the fore in formulating creative models for addressing the tens of thousands of homes without broadband access. Iterating on the EC Fiber (with roots back to the early 2000s), joint, municipally led projects have led to the creation of a total of nine Communications Union Districts (CUDs) at present, which places community-owned broadband at the forefront in Vermont.

What’s equally exciting is that the state has likewise stepped up, calling the CUDs the primary avenue by which it will solve the state’s connectivity crisis, and funneling at least $116 million in their direction in the next handful of years, with much of this spending dedicated to CUDs. To date, nearly 85 percent of Vermont’s municipalities and 90 percent of its underserved locations fall within a CUD. 

Otter Creek Communications Union District (OCCUD) is one of the newest additions, located in the south-central part of the state. It was conceived in July 2020 when the Vermont Department of Public Service awarded the Rutland Regional Planning Commission with a grant for a feasibility study and business plan to bring fiber broadband to the community. The town of Brandon then voted to create ​​OCCUD, and the town of Goshen voted to join the CUD soon afterwards. Today, Otter Creek comprises 14 member communities in South Central Vermont, including Benson, Brandon, Castleton, Chittenden, Fair Haven, Goshen, Hubbardton, Pittsford, Rutland Town, Sudbury, West Rutland, Poultney, Mendon, and Pawlet. 

As a new CUD, Otter Creek is still navigating the planning stages of the project, motivated by the opportunity fiber will provide to allow residents to “compete in the global economy.” Otter Creek’s feasibility study for a fiber buildout was...

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Posted February 16, 2022 by Karl Bode

Last year, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington State were one of 327 Native Nations to receive wireless spectrum as part of the FCC’s Rural Tribal Window program. Since then, tribal leaders have put that spectrum to use by offering free wireless services that have proven to be a lifesaver during the Covid-19 crisis.

The Rural Tribal Window program offered tribal access to one 49.5 megahertz channel, one 50.5 megahertz channel, and one 17.5 megahertz channel in the 2.5 Ghz band. Tribal applicants could apply for one, two, or all three of the channels, depending on availability.

Building Community Capacity

The Colville tribes say the spectrum allowed them to bring connectivity to 80 percent of the reservation in two phases. The already-completed Phase One brought access to the communities near Keller, Washington, while Phase Two will bring access to the remaining communities by 2026. 

“COVID was a shock to everyone, and it became obvious as time went on that there were a lot of kids who had no access to the Internet or devices to connect with,”  Andrew Joseph Jr., Chairman of the Colville Tribal Council, told ILSR. “With school going to virtual learning, and the importance of the Internet generally in this day and age, it was necessary to ensure that something be done to make the Internet accessible.”

In addition to the wireless network plan, the tribes are also stringing fiber along Highway 155 between Nespelem and Omak, Washington. Cumulatively, the projects hope to finally bring access to long-neglected areas, many of which aren’t particularly remote yet have been historically neglected by regional monopolies. 

“There are temporary networks in all four districts now,” Joseph said of the project’s progress. “There is not a hard count of all connections. The Tribes have grant applications pending to help fund the next step in the project plan, which includes the need to bring Internet access to more and remote areas, as well as laying down the building blocks for additional opportunities in the future.”

Searching for Permanent Solutions

Like many Native Nations, the Colville tribes are frustrated by the federal government’s long-standing tradition of throwing billions of dollars at regional...

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Posted February 11, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Located in the most northeastern part of Tennessee, BrightRidge has served as Johnson City’s public power utility for nearly 80 years. About a decade ago, BrightRidge stepped into the broadband space, and has since been taking serious strides to connect Johnson City residents and surrounding communities. 

When we left off with BrightRidge in 2019, the utility was about to start into the first three phases of a fiber buildout to provide 3,847 homes and 373 businesses with broadband access. Since then, state and local funding as well as utility investments have allowed BrightRidge to reach thousands of residents in the area.  

Back in 2009 is when Johnson City, Tennessee began thinking about a possible fiber buildout. Since then, the city of 67,000 has considered a number of approaches, eventually landing on building out a hybrid (fiber and fixed wireless) network and serving as a publicly owned broadband utility to bring Internet access to residents. Known today as BrightRidge Broadband, the utility offers symmetric speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second (for $149/month) in Johnson City and nearby communities.  

Originally slated to be complete in 2026, demand and success in rolling out the infrastructure has led the utility to speed up its deployment plans. According to a June press release, BrightRidge anticipated “collapsing its 8-year build-out plan down to seven years, with 5,449 customers with service available compared to the original FY 22 plan of 2,940.” The release also cited a plan for Phase 5 of deployment, “beginning in July 2023 [and adding] 8,248 customers – 5,300 more than originally planned for the phase.” BrightRidge is currently halfway through Phase 4 of buildout, and has a current coverage area of over 15,000 homes and businesses in Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County. Importantly, the network construction so far has been funded internally with the help of local, state and federal funding: electric customers will see...

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Posted February 1, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Known for decades as the "Sweet Onion Capital of the World," tourists are still drawn to the rural farmlands of Toombs County in east central Georgia for the annual Vidalia Onion Festival.

But in early November 2021, officials from the member-owned electric cooperative Altamaha Electric Membership Corporation (EMC), flanked by an assortment of state and local officials, gathered at the sprawling L.G. Herndon Farms to announce the cultivation of a new venture. Through its newly created subsidiary Altamaha Fiber, the 86-year-old cooperative recently started construction of a fiber-to-the-home network to serve its 14,000 members who live in Toombs County and in the six neighboring counties (Emanuel, Johnson, Laurens, Montgomery, Tattnall, and Treutlen).

A 5,000-acre spread where they grow Vidalia onions, greens, soybeans, and corn (with over 1,600 cattle and a trucking company on the property), L.G. Herndon Farms was chosen as the site to make the announcement because the farm also happened to be the first business test customer for Altamaha Fiber.

Fiber-to-this-farm will allow for precision agriculture. And, as reported by The Advance, Phil Proctor, the engineer overseeing network construction, noted an added benefit, especially in an area that prizes college football in the ACC: “The lines coming into this building would allow owner Bo Herndon to live stream the Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech football game in vivid 4k resolution.”

Beyond the Herndon farm, Georgia Public Service Commissioner Jason Shaw spoke of the far ranging benefits of broadband for the region:

Quality broadband access is key to competing in a 21st-century economy. You can’t participate in e-commerce, education, or telemedicine without access to the Internet. It’s that simple. I’m so pleased to be here today and grateful for the leaders of Altamaha EMC...

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Posted January 25, 2022 by

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Bob Marshall, General Manager of the Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative and the Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications Company.

During the conversation, the two discuss Bob’s love for the cooperative movement, how Plumas-Sierra relies on fixed wireless, cable and fiber to service their rural terrain, and how they are using a $23 million grant from CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission) to build out broadband service in challenging areas. Christopher and Bob also talk about the recovery role broadband infrastructure will play following last summer’s Dixie Fire, and how fire-prone communities might use satellite backhauls in case of emergencies.

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 to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript here

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.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license...

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Posted January 20, 2022 by Christopher Mitchell

With all due respect to Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, his reaction to the Rescue Plan Act's State & Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) spending rules is way off base. As I wrote last week, the rules for broadband infrastructure spending are a good model for pushing down decision-making to the local level where people actually have the information to make informed decisions. (Doug Dawson recently also responded to Commissioner Carr’s statement, offering a response with some overlap of the points below.) 

The Final Rule from the Treasury Department gives broad discretion to local and state governments that choose to spend some of the SLFRF (SLurF-uRF) funds on broadband infrastructure. The earlier draft of rules made it more complicated for networks built to address urban affordability challenges.

However, in coming out against the rules, FCC Commissioner Carr is giving voice to the anger of the big cable and telephone monopolies that cities can, after collecting evidence of need, make broadband investments even in areas where those companies may be selling services already. Commissioner Carr may also be frustrated that he has been reduced to chirping from the sidelines on this issue because the previous FCC, under his party’s leadership, so badly bungled broadband subsidies in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) that Congress decide NTIA should administer these funds and have the state distribute them. 

Nonetheless, the issues that Commissioner Carr raised are common talking points inside the Beltway and we feel that they need to be addressed. 

Background Note

The failure of the FCC to assemble an accurate data collection is many years in the making. No single presidential administration can take the full blame for it, but each of them could have corrected it. 

President Biden’s FCC is not yet fully assembled because of delays in appointment and in Senate confirmation, but it would not be reasonable to lay blame on the current FCC for the failures discussed below. That said, it is not clear that we are on a course for having better maps and data that will resolve these problems anytime soon...

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