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Farmers in “Little Egypt” Look Forward to Growing Fiber Network
In a part of the Prairie State referred to as “Little Egypt,” a small county in southeastern Illinois recently received a big infusion of federal funds to expand its broadband network into neighboring rural counties.
In October of 2020, the USDA announced that the Hamilton County Telephone Cooperative was awarded a $20 million ReConnect grant and a $20 million ReConnect loan to bring broadband to over 19,000 residents, 462 businesses, 347 farms, 16 educational facilities, three post offices and four fire stations in Saline, Williamson, Franklin and White counties.
The $40 million in total Hamilton County received was a portion of the $600 million Congress appropriated to the USDA in 2018 to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. In April of 2020, the USDA announced it had received 172 applications worth $1.57 billion in Round Two ReConnect requests.
The funds awarded to Hamilton County in the fall came on top of the $3.4 million from the state-wide Connect Illinois program and ReConnect funds the co-op received in February of 2020 to build out its Fiber-To-The-Premises (FTTP) network to connect more than 600 homes in the rural county with a population just over 8,000 residents.
Decades of Service
Big Bucks for Broadband in the Balance: Explaining the Affordable, Accessible Internet for All Act - Part 4
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
Predictions for 2021, Year in Review for 2020 - Episode 441 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
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 of 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 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.
Image of John Dee’s Crystal ball by Vassil [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons.
"You Can't Use an Old Map To Explore a New World": Explaining the Affordable, Accessible Internet for All Act - Part 3
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.
Building a Bridge over the Digital Divide: Explaining the Affordable, Accessible Internet for All Act - Part 2
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)
Kansas Announces New Ten-Year, $85-million Broadband Grant Program
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.
West of Lake Placid, Tupper Lake is Tackling Monstrously Bad Service by Building Its Own Network
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.
Residents in Washington County, Ohio Form Broadband Cooperative
Fed up with poor speeds and no service, a handful of residents in Washington County, Ohio have teamed up to form a broadband cooperative to pursue better connectivity for themselves and their neighbors.
The Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative (SEOBC), created last May, is the result of work led by David Brown. “Electric cooperatives worked,” he said of the founding impulse. “Why can’t we do the same thing for broadband?”
After organizing, the first step the group took was to set up a speed test and map to both show how poorly connected many residents of Washington County are, and to plan for the future. That test is still ongoing, and the results are not terribly encouraging so far. Out of 4,662 run, almost 800 premises have no service (17%). Suddenlink and Charter are the only providers returning averages above the FCC’s threshold for basic broadband (25/3 Mbps (Megabits per second)), but together they represent just over 10% of those taking tests — though admittedly this is the result of sample bias, the map shows that outside of Marietta, Lovell, Beverly, Vincent, and the few other concentrated areas there are few providers returning adequate speeds. Subscribers to Frontier, Windstream, and ViaSat across the county see average connections of around 8/2 Mbps (Megabits per second). Those on HughesNet even worse off, at 3/2.5 Mbps.
Asa Boring, a Belpre Township trustee, told the Marietta Times:
We have people in our area who have sort of Internet, but it’s kind of a hit and miss thing. But when you get a mile out of Little Hocking it’s over with, you just don’t get it . . . unless you sign up with Windstream and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
In the Wall Street Journal: Rural Families Struggle With Work and School With No Home Internet Access
Months after work and school went remote for millions of Americans, some communities are still waiting to get online. In the Wall Street Journal in August, members of a rural community in West Virginia discuss the daily toll in their life that this struggle to receive home Internet access takes. ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell also explains the failures of US broadband policy that has kept communities from getting connected:
We see states that are still making policy based on what the cable and telephone companies, the big cable and telephone companies, tell them. But we electrified the country by recognizing that those business models do not work for all of America.
Read more in the article, or watch the video here.
Expanding High-Speed Internet Access in America Through Fiber Condominiums
This afternoon we hosted a YouTube Live event to talk about a model for financing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks with the potential to dramatically expand ultrafast Internet access at affordable rates with no large upfront costs to homeowners. Christopher was joined by Deborah Simpier, CEO of Althea Networks, to talk with NetEquity Networks Founder and CEO Isfandiyar Shaheen (Asfi) about how it works, and dig into practical questions about its potential to fiberize rural America. This “fiber condominium” approach pairs collectively owned network infrastructure with the equity boost that comes with bringing symmetrical gigabit access to residential housing.
Watch the recording below, and read more about the approach.