Tag: "digital divide"

Posted November 28, 2019 by lgonzalez

As late November arrives, so does the the holiday season for many of our readers. People reading up on local efforts to improve Internet access will be counting their blessings today, which inspires us to do the same. There are many things we have to be thankful this year.

As access to affordable broadband becomes increasingly critical in today's world, however, and as rates from the large Internet access companies continue to rise, getting online is more challenging than ever for folks with limited incomes. We want to express our appreciation for local communities who adopt policies to make high-quality Internet access available to lower income households through their municipal networks.

A Growing Awareness

Wilson, North Carolina, decided that as part of the community network's mission, they would offer fast, reliable fiber Internet access available to those living in public housing residences. Since then, we've seen other communities take creative approaches to ensure that everyone can use the network, not only those who are already better off. Municipalities that see the value of publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure understand the value of eliminating cherry picking as a way to tap into their undiscovered human capital.

Unlike large corporate Internet access providers, publicly owned networks don't need to maximize profit from every subscriber in order to please shareholders. They consider themselves in place for the public good. Munis can dedicate themselves toward digital inclusion efforts, which are in line with their mission.

During Digital Inclusion Week in October, we detailed some of the innovative approaches that local decision makers are adopting to ensure the least fortunate in their communities have access to the community's new fiber tools. Here are just a few:

In Hillsboro, Oregon, one of the first neighborhoods to receive gigabit connectivity through HiLight will be one of the areas of town where many folks don't have access to, or can't afford broadband Internet access. People there who qualify for SNAP, free and reduced lunches, or other income-based assistance...

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Posted November 20, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has a reputation for looking at today’s reality with an eye toward tomorrow’s needs. In their report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, Benton Senior Fellow Johnathan Sallet continues that perspective and offers insightful recommendations for a new National Broadband Agenda.

Download the report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s here.

Broadband for All Needs a New Approach

As access to high-quality connectivity becomes more critical each day, those without fast, affordable, reliable Internet access lose ground more quickly as time passes. In addition to the opportunities that come with broadband access, lack of adoption translates into lack of technical skills. Innovation isn’t slowing down for folks who don’t have broadband. 

As Sallet notes, access to and adoption of broadband improves our economy, strengthens communities, and empowers American workers. Obtaining that access and expanding that adoption, however, is proving more challenging than it should be.

In his report, the author reviews in detail the barriers that have prevented the U.S. from achieving its goal of ubiquitous access and adoption of broadband. He’s able to make recommendations based on four key policy areas:

Deployment of networks where adequate broadband does not exist;

Competition to increase choices and spur lower prices and better-quality service to their residents;

Affordability and Adoption for those who wish to have broadband in their homes but lack the means or the skills to acquire it; and

Community Anchor Institutions, such as schools and libraries, that increasingly serve their users wherever they are. 

"The Same Fabric of Truth-Seeking"

The 150-page report provides examples of successes, challenges, and many more detailed recommendations for a forward-thinking broadband policy agenda. As the author notes, extending high-performance broadband to all of...

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Posted November 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

In late October 2019, Christopher travelled to the D.C. area to attend a Broadband Communities Economic Development event and while he was there, he sat down with Executive Director Adrianne Furniss and  Senior Fellow Jon Sallet from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. This week, we get to sit in on their conversations about the recent change at Benton from "foundation" to "institute" and about their recent report, Broadband for America's Future: A Vision for the 2020s.

First, Christopher speaks with Adrianne, who discusses the reasons why the organization has recently changed in order to stay current with their mission and with the times. She talks a little about the history of Benton and describes some of the reasons for developing the report.

Christopher spends most of the interview with Jon Sallet, who authored the report and who has a long career in antitrust and communications. After working in D.C. in telecommunications and Internet policy for several decades, he's seen the influence of the Internet grow. In this report, Jon analyzes stories and situations from around the U.S. and establishes a vision that will help us move forward to connect as many people as possible. He and Christopher discuss the four major factors that, if nurtured correctly, can help us integrate broadband into all sectors of society and maximize its usefulness. Christopher and Jon give special time to competition, an issue that arises repeatedly in the work at Benton and in our work at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The interview will spark your interest in the report that...

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Posted October 30, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has a reputation for looking at today’s reality with an eye toward tomorrow’s needs. In their report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, Benton Senior Fellow Johnathan Sallet continues that perspective and offers insightful recommendations for a new National Broadband Agenda.

Download the report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s here.

Broadband for All Needs a New Approach

As access to high-quality connectivity becomes more critical each day, those without fast, affordable, reliable Internet access lose ground more quickly as time passes. In addition to the opportunities that come with broadband access, lack of adoption translates into lack of technical skills. Innovation isn’t slowing down for folks who don’t have broadband. 

As Sallet notes, access to and adoption of broadband improves our economy, strengthens communities, and empowers American workers. Obtaining that access and expanding that adoption, however, is proving more challenging than it should be.

In his report, the author reviews in detail the barriers that have prevented the U.S. from achieving its goal of ubiquitous access and adoption of broadband. He’s able to make recommendations based on four key policy areas:

Deployment of networks where adequate broadband does not exist;

Competition to increase choices and spur lower prices and better-quality service to their residents;

Affordability and Adoption for those who wish to have broadband in their homes but lack the means or the skills to acquire it; and

Community Anchor Institutions, such as schools and libraries, that increasingly serve their users wherever they are. 

Deploying Better Networks, Creating Choice

In addition to better data collection in order to know where Internet access is inadequate, Sallet writes that policymakers and citizens should also have access to information about Internet access that hasn't...

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Posted October 15, 2019 by lgonzalez

South Bend, Indiana, is a mid-sized city of around 100,000 people where they are making practical use of their dark fiber network and technology. In episode 378 of the podcast, Christopher talks with Denise Linn Riedl, Chief Innovation Officer. Denise describes many of the "non-sexy" ways the community and her department are using technology to encourage interdepartmental cooperation, efficiency, and the idea that technology is a standard tool, rather than a "shiny new thing."

Denise introduces us to the publicly owned dark fiber infrastructure, Choice Light, and shares a little about its history. She describes how Internet access companies use the infrastructure to provide service to various sectors of the community. Digital inclusion is on the minds of South Bend leadership and Denise describes partnerships that have helped shrink the lack of access for people who struggle to get online. Christopher and Denise delve into the subtle digital inclusion efforts that happen every day in South Bend.

The interview also covers the city's work to use technology and data to measure success and find areas for increased efficiencies in city services. Christopher and Denise examine ways to reduce bureaucracy through technology and take a practical approach by considering what resources are currently available. Denise's department works with other governmental departments on adopting new approaches and working through change management. She discusses the city's data governance project and reveiws some of the surprising moments that have led to innovative use of data to enhance city operations in South Bend and cut costs.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e...

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Posted October 10, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Which would you choose — a broadband subscription with download speeds of 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) or a much faster gigabit plan for the same price?

The choice is clear, and it’s one that low-income households in Hillsboro, Oregon, may soon make, thanks to the city’s planned municipal fiber network. Earlier this year, Hillsboro announced that its new broadband utility, HiLight, will offer gigabit connectivity for only $10 per month to qualified low-income residents. In comparison, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program provides low-income families in the city speeds of just 15 Mbps for roughly the same monthly cost.

Hillsboro isn’t the first community to leverage its publicly owned fiber network for digital inclusion efforts. Municipal networks across the country are providing low-cost connectivity, affordable devices, and digital skills trainings to their communities, bringing the educational, economic, and healthcare benefits of broadband access to more people.

Defining Digital Inclusion

Digital inclusion is the practice of ensuring digital equity, which the National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines as “a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.”

Broadband availability is only one of many “digital divides” that explain who is and isn’t connected. For instance, income and affordability also play a role. According to the Pew Research Center, adults with annual incomes of $75,000 or more are almost twice as likely to have broadband access at home than adults with annual incomes of less than $30,000. Among those without home broadband access, the high cost of a subscription is most commonly cited as the top reason why, Pew reports.

logo-NDIA.jpg To succeed, digital...

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Posted October 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

This week is Digital Inclusion Week, sponsored by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). As a reader of MuniNetworks.org, you're used to stories about local communities that develop strategies to deploy networks for many reasons, including to improve access to high-quality connectivity. These local communities recognize the necessity of finding a way for members of the community to obtain fast, affordable, reliable Internet access. Access, however, is only one element of digital inclusion. We'll share stories highlighting local efforts to bring every person online with the tools they need to expand their use of the Internet.

NDIA writes:

Digital Inclusion Week (DIW)  is October 7-11, 2019, and with your help we can move closer to our common goal: that all people have access to the Internet and the tools they need to use it. The week, sponsored by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, is an opportunity to raise awareness about digital inequities and nationwide efforts to close those gaps from California to the Carolinas. Digital Inclusion Week seeks to bring people who dedicate their lives to Digital Inclusion together to highlight the impact of their work and to come together to find solutions to close digital divides.

What is Digital Inclusion?

Digital inclusion isn't limited to the inability to subscribe to Internet access because one doesn't live in a place where is isn't available. NDIA applies five necessary elements:

Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).  This includes 5 elements: 

1) affordable, robust broadband Internet service; 

2) Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 

3) access to digital literacy training; 

4) quality technical support; and 

5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration. 

Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances. Digital Inclusion requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology.

Join In the...

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Posted October 3, 2019 by lgonzalez

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mapping has long been criticized for inaccuracies. Now, state and local initiatives are taking up the challenge of poor broadband mapping and developing ways to create their own maps that better reflect the reality of broadband coverage in their communities. The Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI) recently showcased several county-level maps they’ve developed that provide the detail that FCC maps lack.

Therein the Problem Lies

As experts have noted, FCC data on which maps are based are inadequate because their foundation is based on census blocks. If one premise in a census block can be served by an Internet access provider, that provider will report on the Form 477 that the entire census block is served. In rural areas where census blocks can be very large tracts of land, this can leave many premises indicated as served but actually unserved. 

We developed this graphic to illustrate the issue:

diagram-census-blocks-2018.jpg

When local communities apply for funding that’s based on the need to connect unserved and underserved premises, they can be disqualified due to incorrect mapping data. For local leaders who need to get their communities connected and expect to apply for grants and loans, FCC mapping can derail their funding and delay or end a proposed project.

This past August, the FCC announced that they will finally take steps to improve mapping and began seeking comments on the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection. Read the announcement [PDF].

Fixing the Maps

In Georgia, the GBDI sought to obtain information on a more granular level to obtain an accurate representation of where residents and businesses need to be connected and where they lack the kind of connectivity they need. 

According to GBDI Director Deanna Perry, staff developed a database of all premises located within the targeted counties they...

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Posted September 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

Before the Internet was an integral part of daily life, libraries were often places where people went to study, ready, or find a quiet corner. Things are different now and so is the role of the librarian. Libraries are now vibrant, busy places where people of all ages still turn for their favorite author or story time for the kids. The hub of activity in many libraries now, however, are computers and the librarians to help manage them. In a recent episode of The Takeaway, we learn about how librarians in two different environments approach the needs of their patrons, most who count on them to help overcome access issues.

Matt Katz speaks with librarian Lauren Comito who works in Brooklyn and provides a better and more nuanced view of the digital divide. It isn’t as simple as either being connected or not. He also talks with Jessamyn West, who fills the same role in a rural Vermont library. She confirms Lauren’s analysis; both fill the important role of being the trusted source that folks in the neighborhood turn to for help navigating the digital divide.

The Takeaway talks about the many factors that influence the digital divide, including cost, access to connectivity, and the learning curve. They discuss device challenges and how lack of knowledge about the Internet can expand the digital divide. Lauren and Jessamyn also describe how libraries are more than just places people go who need computers for critical access — libraries are also social and community centers where people can expand their support networks. Both Lauren and Jessamyn share stories of how they've helped patrons who needed a boost that could only come from a librarian.

Librarians have come to understand the complexities of the digital divide and finding ways for people with unique needs to overcome it.

Check out the conversation on The Takeaway - How Libraries Are Bringing the Digital Divide.

Posted September 18, 2019 by lgonzalez

In early September, officials in San Francisco made an offer to purchase assets belonging to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). Preston Rhea, Director of Engineering, Policy Program at ISP MonkeyBrains believes that, while the purchase makes sense for electric ratepayers in the community, it could also herald a new age of connectivity for the citizens of San Francisco. We became familiar with Preston's vision and talent for innovation when we developed a report on MonkeyBrains, which collaborated with the city to offer high-quality Internet access to low-income households.

Preston recently published this piece on the possibilities in the San Francisco Examiner and has allowed us to share it with you.

 

Buying PG&E’s distribution network could also make municipal broadband possible

by Preston Rhea

The City of San Francisco is doubly harmed by its relationship with PG&E.

The for-profit utility neglected to invest in safety upgrades to its transmission lines, resulting in a series of deadly fires that killed dozens of people last year and choked Northern California with poisonous smoke. PG&E is using its bankruptcy to avoid liability for the disasters it caused.

Meanwhile, ratepayers in San Francisco feed PG&E’s shareholder profits and our municipal government pays it tens of millions of dollars a year.

Now that situation may change. The news that Mayor London Breed made a $2.5 billion offer to acquire all of PG&E’s power distribution assets that serve San Francisco is a great idea, and it opens the door to a revolution in city services that could go beyond electricity. It could mean gigabit broadband for all.

How does acquiring a power utility lead to municipal Internet? This is a well-trodden path all over the US — most famously in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the cooperatively-run Electrical Power Board (EPB) began offering telecom service over a decade ago. Today EPB serves over 60 percent of their power customers with symmetrical Internet connections over optical fiber, many years ahead of schedule.

Fiber is used to monitor power...

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