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USDA ReConnect Round 3 Rewards High-Speed, Open Access, Locally Driven Networks
The USDA’s ReConnect program has disbursed more than $1.5 billion since its inception in December 2018. On the whole, the USDA seems to have done a better job than the FCC of leading to new broadband infrastructure which is fast, affordable, and locally controlled. Much of the money it has given out has gone to community-driven solutions, with Tribes, electric and telephone cooperatives, and local governments applying for and winning awards. The program has also seen partnerships between counties and other public as well as private entities.
But there’s a lot to like about the newest round of funding, totaling $1.2 billion more (representing a full 80 percent of all money given out so far). The application process for Round 3 began at the end of November, with applications due by February 22, 2022.
Announced at the end of October, the new scoring metric represents a significant step in the right direction, increasing speed definitions on both sides of the application. But there are other things to like here as well.
Leader from Yurok Tribe in California Explains the Impacts of Digital Sovereignty At Broadband Bootcamp
Back in July, with the support of the Internet Society and a crew of community broadband advocates interested in increasing digital sovereignty across Indian Country, five tribes participated in the first ever Tribal Broadband Bootcamp.
The Yurok Tribe (northern California), Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria (northern California), Hoopa Valley Tribe (northern California), Pueblo of Laguna (New Mexico), and Nation of Hawaii have all applied for and received a 2.5 GHz license to build a community network for their tribes.
In this video, Jessica Engle, IT Director for the Yurok Tribe speaks in more detail about the connectivity challenges her community has faced historically, and how she is returning home from the bootcamp ready to put her newfound knowledge to work.
“When you bring high-speed Internet, that’s when development happens and opportunity happens. So, you know, making sure that (tribal) council and everyone’s aware this is going to cost money, and it probably won’t have a huge return on investment directly. But there are a million different indirect benefits of bringing the access,” Engle says in the video.
Currently, the standard connection for residents is 1 Megabits per second (Mbps) download. The premium is 5 Mbps.
Both her and Linnea Jackson, General Manager for Hoopa Valley PUD stress the importance of tribes in their region being able to build and operate their own networks.
“You do have the ability to provide service for your own people,” said Linnae Jackson, General Manager of the Hoopa Valley PUD.
Watch Jessica Engle speak further with Chris Mitchell, Travis Carter and Matthew Rantanen on Episode 17 of Connect This!
Learn more about how to build LTE networks with our four-part educational video series.
ATMC Assures All Members Are Served By Fiber
The Atlantic Telephone Membership Cooperative (ATMC) has worked to meet the communications needs of its members since its inception by the citizens of rural Brunswick County, North Carolina who were without telephone service in 1955. Nowadays, ATMC believes meeting members’ communications needs means ensuring all co-op members have access to gigabit fiber Internet service.
High-speed Internet access is currently available throughout 100 percent of the co-op’s service area in southeastern North Carolina. Most co-op members have access to fiber Internet service already, except for those living in ATMC’s Brunswick County service territory, where ATMC originally began offering Internet services.
Brunswick County is the last county ATMC needs to upgrade to fiber, in order to complete an overarching goal of delivering fiber-to-the-home Internet service to all existing members. The co-op recently announced it will soon start a project to replace all of its copper and coaxial wires in Brunswick County with fiber optic cables. It will cost $100 million dollars and take eight years to complete, but at the end of the project, all of the cooperative’s members in Brunswick County currently served by legacy infrastructure will be upgraded to fiber, offering even faster Internet access speeds and far greater reliability.
In the meantime, ATMC has increased the maximum broadband speed delivered to co-op members in Brunswick County from 200 megabits per second (Mbps) to 600 Mbps, a company press release states. Over 22,000 customers had their download speeds doubled without an increase in price.
“The project is slated to start in January 2022,” according to an ATMC press release announcing the project. “By constructing in the most densely populated communities first, the cooperative estimates that it can convert as many as 75 percent of homes and businesses to the new fiber optic network within the first 60 months.”
Infrastructure Bill Passes: ‘Our Broadband Moment’
This past Friday Congress finally passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation includes $65 billion to boost high-speed Internet connectivity – “the largest (federal) investment in broadband deployment ever,” as noted by Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. This is an historic piece of legislation that includes many of the things we wanted to see in it and we believe it will significantly help solve broadband challenges for many who have not yet been well connected.
There are two major buckets of broadband money that will be made available to states and tribal governments: $42.5 billion for the deployment of infrastructure, which will be mostly aimed at rural communities, with the rest going toward digital inclusion efforts.
While we have not yet gone through the final version with a fine-toothed comb, the broadband portion of the infrastructure bill appears to be identical to what was in the bipartisan Senate version of the bill, which we previously wrote about here.
Rural America Biggest Beneficiary
The $42.5 billion portion of the bill will be allocated to the States in the form of block grants under the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, which will be administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
Watch This Four-Part Educational Video Series on Building Wireless Networks
With support from the Internet Society, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has produced a video series to help tribes meet the requirements set by the FCC in getting their 2.5GHz networks up and running. Featuring participants from this summer's inaugural Tribal Wireless Bootcamp (including Spencer Sevilla and Deb Simpier), the series offers an introduction to key terms before walking viewers through the necessary steps from inception to connecting end users to a new network.
Christopher wrote a retrospective of the event at the end of September, so head there if you're curious about how it all came together, the lessons learned, and more about the wonderful people who took part in the effort.
The educational series is split into four parts: 1) Why LTE? 2) An Intro to EPC 3) Setting up the eNodeB, and 4) Configuring SIM Cards and Adding Users.
Watch the videos below, or view the full playlist here.
Christopher Mitchell to be Keynote Speaker at ‘Livable Appalachia Summit’
This month Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for ILSR Christopher Mitchell will join the panel for a four-part virtual series on developing communities that foster safe and thriving lifestyles for an aging population. The North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee AARP offices are partnering to present the Livable Appalachia Summit in an effort to bring experts and local leaders together to share ideas and connect about the best way to support their communities.
Mitchell will be the keynote speaker for the second part of the series, “Our Connections: Creating Broadband Networks” which will be on Oct. 15. He will be one of six experts and leaders discussing what rural communities across the country are doing to close the digital divide by connecting underserved communities. They will talk about opportunities and barriers that exist when it comes to providing low-cost access to lower-income households.
The series started on Oct. 1 and will run through Dec. 3. Sessions will run from 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM. More details are below:
10/1 Our towns: Growing with Grace
10/15 Our connections: Creating Broadband Networks
11/12 Our homes: Affordable and Accessible Housing
12/3 Getting there: Transportation Solutions
Register for the event here.
Electric Cooperatives Power Broadband Charge Across Rural Georgia
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.
Watch This Webinar on 9/29 - Repairing Broken Broadband Policy: A Conversation with Dr. Christopher Ali
A week from today, the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) is hosting a fireside chat on Tuesday, September 29th at 12-12:30p ET with SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen and Christopher Ali.
Ali is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, and recently released a new book through MIT press called Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity.
From the description:
Before the pandemic-driven surge of public investment in broadband networks, the federal government had subsidized rural broadband by approximately $6 billion a year. So why does the rural-urban digital divide persist? Why are we looking to the new infrastructure bill to solve a problem that should have been solved a decade ago? Author of "Farm Fresh Broadband" Dr. Christopher Ali argues that rural broadband policy is both broken and incomplete, proposing a new national broadband plan. Join SHLB Coalition Executive Director John Windhausen for a virtual fireside chat with Dr. Ali, to pick his brain on where the U.S. is going wrong and how to course correct rural broadband policy moving forward. And of course, they’ll discuss where community anchor institutions fit into it all.
ILSR spoke with Ali on Episode 134 of the Building Local Power podcast, which you can listen to here.
Building Connections and Capacity in Indian Country at the First Tribal Wireless Bootcamp
Earlier this summer, a small group of people gathered in the southern California desert for the first Tribal Wireless Bootcamp. Organized by a loose collection of people with a long history of building and encouraging nontraditional broadband networks, the focus was on building, maintaining, and troubleshooting wireless networks in Indian Country.
To avoid any pretense of journalistic integrity, I will just say upfront that it was awesome. Not just in the sense that it was a good time, but in the sense that it was overwhelming and hard to fully grasp. For some of us, it was the first time in more than a year we had been in a group of people of any size, let alone people outside our immediate social circle.
Some of the attendees were already operating networks and others were new to it but everyone shared strategies, whether about software or how to organize people in historically marginalized communities - taking lessons from the Bronx and applying them to Tribal lands.
Ultimately, we achieved the multiple objectives set out from the beginning - to share strategies on building physical networks while actually building a social support network for this work that would endure after the weekend ended. Each of the Tribes involved received a set of 2.5 GHz radios that would not only allow for a high-capacity link, but would standardize the participants so they could better help each other to troubleshoot and improve their networks.
Many rural areas lack decent broadband Internet access, but the lack of availability in Tribal reservations is extreme. No one even knows what the statistic is, but like many statistics that the Federal Communications Commission publishes, everyone knows it is a gross overstatement. For decades, Tribes have been overlooked, ignored, and defrauded by telecommunications companies seeking to extract wealth from their people and land, with some notable exceptions of companies that have worked hard to connect Indigenous communities. Many Tribal leaders have concluded they need to build their own networks to ensure high-quality Internet access to secure many of the modern benefits the rest of us take for granted.
Rethinking Rural Connectivity with Christopher Ali - Episode 473 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week, we are spotlighting episode 134 of Building Local Power, an ILSR podcast hosted by our Communication’s Manager, Jess Del Fiasco. On this episode, Jess is joined by the Community Broadband Networks Initiative’s Senior Researcher Ry Marcatillio-McCracken and Senior Reporter, Editor and Researcher Sean Gonsalves to interview Christopher Ali about his new book, Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity.
Christopher Ali is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia where he is currently focusing on broadband policy and deployment across the country.
The four discuss Chistopher’s motivation for and methodology in writing the book, how better broadband access can spur economic development in rural areas, and how communities are finding solutions in situations where the federal government’s efforts to improve rural broadband infrastructure have fallen short.
This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.