Tag: "digital divide"

Posted April 4, 2019 by lgonzalez

Erie County, New York, and its county seat of Buffalo have had high-quality Internet access on their minds for several years. Now, County Executive Mark Poloncarz proposes a project to deploy middle mile infrastructure to attract local ISPs and generate competition. We're pleased to see county leadership taking another shot at better connectivity for the people in Erie County, but we hope community leaders will approach the project realistically; in order to bring high-quality Internet access to everyone, the county may need to play a more significant role in the future.

A Lingering Problem, A Possible Solution

Even though it's the county seat, a 2015 report from Erie County's Municipal Broadband Committee noted that the Buffalo Metropolitan Area's peak speeds ranked 294th in the state and that areas existed where there was no option for Internet access of ANY kind. The results horrified elected officials at the time; they issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to study the feasibility of a county-wide publicly owned broadband network. 

After a survey of residents and businesses, and an assessment of the current situation in Erie County, the final feasibility study recommended several actions, including a middle mile open access network investment. You can review the entire 2017 feasibility study here.

Problems with lackluster and even nonexistent Internet access have lingered in Buffalo and Erie County throughout the past two years. Community leaders have considered the feasibility study and given providers Verizon, Spectrum, AT&T, CenturyLink, and others operating in the region the chance to improve services to the entire county.

Now, County Executive Mark Poloncarz has announced that enough is enough and the digital divide won't narrow unless the public takes control. Taking the recommendation of the 2017 feasibility study to heart, Poloncarz has announced that he'd like Erie County...

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Posted April 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

Net Inclusion 2019 is happening in Charlotte, North Carolina, and if you aren’t there you can still watch the action online through the livestream from National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).

In addition to bringing the live action, NDIA is providing a list of the livestreamed content directly below the video on the YouTube page. For a full agenda, check out the Net Inclusion website

If you’re in North Carolina at the event, you can make Christopher’s panel, “Infrastructure Projects that Include Affordability, Digital Literacy, and Public Access.” He’ll be moderating a panel with Garrett Brinker from Neighborly, Deb Socia of Next Century Cities, Geoff Millener of the Enterprise Center Chattanooga, and Will Aycock, General Manager of Wilson, North Carolina’s Greenlight Community Broadband Network. The panel will discuss municipal network infrastructure and efforts to bring high-quality connectivity to people living in affordable housing.

Watch the livestream:

Posted March 21, 2019 by lgonzalez

Last year, city leaders in Hillsboro, Oregon, decided to pursue a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for all premises after studying the possibilities since 2014. Crews have started construction and the city has now introduced the name of its newest utility, HiLight.

Equity Matters

Throughout the process of exploring municipal network possibilities, community leaders in Hillsboro have kept digital equity high on their list of priorities. In order to meet one of their goals — to bring high-quality connectivity to lower income neighborhoods — one of the first areas of the city where HiLight will deploy is in Southwest Hillsboro and the premises around Shute Park. Connectivity rates in these areas are the lowest in Hillsboro, where many residents qualify as lower income.

In order to expedite deployment, the city has decided to start construction in the South Hillsboro area, a section of town where new roads and homes are being built. By taking advantage of the current excavation, the city’s dig once policy will ensure conduit goes in the neighborhood now, which will greatly reduce the cost of deployment. Hillsboro will also install conduit whenever roads are excavated in other areas of town to prepare for future deployment.

logo-hilight-hillsboro.jpeg By late 2019, HiLight should be connecting residents and businesses to the network. They plan to take an incremental approach to connecting all areas of the city and will strategically consider locations of businesses, busy travel corridors, and schools as they decide where to expand. Hillsboro will invest approximately $4 million toward deployment per year for the next seven years and anticipate subscriber revenue will cover operating costs.

Schools as A Building Block

Earlier this year, Hillsboro and the Hillsboro School District (HSD)...

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Posted March 4, 2019 by lgonzalez

In recent years, North Carolina has become a legislative broadband battleground in the war to regain local telecommunications authority. This legislative session, support from Governor Roy Cooper, outspoken State Legislators, and North Carolina media may make an impact on state law.

Let's Fix This

In 2015, the FCC preempted restrictive state laws which set dire limitations on municipal network expansions, but the state chose to back telecom monopolies over citizens’ need for better connectivity. The state took the FCC to court and won, which meant North Carolina’s laws won’t allow places such as Wilson to help neighbor Pinetops with high-quality Internet access. In addition to preventing local community networks from expanding, requirements and regulations are so onerous, that the state law is a de facto ban on new networks.

Lawmakers such as Republican Rep. David Lewis has put broadband development among the top of their priorities list. In a letter to constituents, Lewis wrote:

High-speed Internet access has transitioned from a luxury to a necessity of our 21st-century economy...It is needed for economic growth in North Carolina, yet many rural communities throughout the state do not have access to broadband services because of their under-developed infrastructure.

In order to get fiber out to people across the state, governments — federal, state, county and local — should be able to invest in fiber infrastructure, and in turn, lease them to the service providers who sell access to the consumer. We have to do something so that the people of this state can be connected to our ever-evolving world.

Cooper, a Democrat, presented broadband deployment in rural areas at the top of his agenda during the State of the State Address. According to a WRAL.com report, both Republican and Democrats strongly supported the proposal with intense applause. The positive bipartisan reaction to his comments reveals that policy makers from both sides of the aisle recognize the critical nature of high-quality Internet access for their constituents.

Last year, the state developed the Growing Rural Economies and Access to Technology (GREAT) Program, which made $10...

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Posted January 29, 2019 by lgonzalez

Spring seems like a lifetime away as we hunker down in our frozen Minneapolis office, but we know it will be here sooner than we expect and with it will come Net Inclusion 2019. The event will take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, this year April 1st - 3rd and if you haven’t already started making plans to be there…why haven’t you started making plans to be there?

Putting Digital Inclusion on Everyone's Mind

Each year the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) puts on the event to bring together a broad range of people and organizations involved in digital equity. In addition to policy experts and community practitioners, representatives from Internet access providers attend, along with advocates and folks interested in sparking grassroots movements in their local communities. Some of the issues they discuss include:

  • Policy at the federal, state, and local level that affect digital equity
  • Support — including financial— aimed at digital inclusion programs
  • Digital inclusion best practices from around the U.S.

This year, the event will be held in Charlotte at the Harris Conference Center. Day One — April 1st — will include a series of pre-conference events. By the second day of the conference, the itinerary will be filled with interactive sessions and the final day will end at 3 p.m. on April 3rd. If you register by February 14th, you can receive a discount on your tickets and on hotel bookings at the Omni hotel.

There will be a lot going on, so check out the schedule to plan your participation. You can also see a list of speakers (Christopher will be there).

Learn more at the NDIA registration page.

Are You An Affiliate? Ligtning Round!

NDIA is also accepting special applications from digital inclusion initiatives for 25 - 30 Lightning Round presentations. Each organization accepted will have four minutes to present their initiative and a maximum of five slides. If you’re interested, learn more at the NDIA website; the deadline to...

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Posted January 4, 2019 by lgonzalez

Ever since the term “5G” came on the scene, the big ISPs have dedicated themselves to expanding hype about what the technology will accomplish, especially in rural areas. In a recent NBC News Signal segment, Dasha Burns took a look at rural and urban connectivity, the digital divide, and considered the demands and limitations of 5G.

She provides a simple explanation for why 5G can only have a limited impact in rural areas. She also touches on some of the issues that create parallels between the situation for people in urban areas who might not have access to 5G when it finally arrives. To address the urban component of digital equity, Burns went to Newark, New Jersey, and met with students who, due to economic limitations, rely on public access to the Internet.

Burns visits rural Minnesota to check out RS Fiber and talks with one of the many local people in the agriculture industry, a crop consultant, that needs high-quality connectivity from the broadband co-op. We get a peek inside the RS Fiber headquarters. For more on the rural Minnesota cooperative, download our 2016 report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.

Check out the 5:25 minute video:

Posted December 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

We left our crystal ball, tarot cards, and astrology charts at home, but that won’t stop us from trying to predict what will happen in 2019 for this week’s annual predictions podcast. Each year, we reflect on the important events related to publicly owned broadband networks and local connectivity that occurred during the year and share our impressions for what we expect to see in the next twelve months. As usual, the discussion is spirited and revealing.

This year we saw the departures of Research Associate Hannah Trostle and Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer as both decided to head off to grad school. This year, you’ll hear our new Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco and Research Associate Katie Kienbaum keeping those seats warm. Hannah and Nick take time out of their schedules to offer some predictions of their own at the end of the show.

In addition to recaps of last year's predictions for state legislation, cooperative efforts, and preemption, we get into our expectations for what we expect to see from large, national incumbent ISPs, local private and member owned providers, and governments. We discuss federal funding, local organizing efforts and issues that drive them, concentration of power, our predictions for digital equity, efforts in big cities, open access, rural initiatives, and more. This podcast is packed with good stuff!

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 45 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...

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Posted November 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

When it comes to high-quality Internet access, the big corporate ISPs have failed rural Mississippi. Other states with similar digital divide issues are starting to see rural electric cooperatives make efforts to connect members. In some places, legislatures have adjusted state laws that complicated co-ops' ability to deploy fiber optic infrastructure. Now, the Public Service Commission (PSC) in Mississippi has formally requested that state lawmakers update an antiquated statute to allow rural electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access.

Waiting for Action

When Magnolia's State Legislators convene in January, they’ll have a unanimous resolution waiting for them from the state’s PSC. The resolution requests that lawmakers take action to adjust Miss. Code 77-5-205 to allow electric cooperatives the authority to offer Internet access. 

James Richardson, Policy Director and Counsel from the Office of Commissioner Brandon Presley, explained that the law currently only allows electric cooperatives the authority to form “…for the purpose of promoting and encouraging the fullest possible use of electric energy…” — electric cooperative are precluded from operating for any other purpose. The law was passed in the 1930s when cooperatives formed across the state to bring electricity to the many farmers in rural Mississippi. The matter has been tested and confirmed at the state Supreme Court

The PSC asks that the State Legislature create an exception in statute in order to allow rural electric cooperatives the the ability to also offer Internet access. Earlier this month, the three Commissioners on the PSC approved the resolution requesting the law change.

logo-ms-psc.jpg Presley has been...

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Posted November 29, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

The Grant County Digital Network Coalition is moving forward with plans to expand connectivity and close the digital divide in Grant County, Oregon.

We first reported on the creation of the coalition, which includes Grant County and the cities of John Day and Seneca, last year. Since then, the group has held three Board of Directors meetings and is making progress toward deploying a fiber optic network in Grant County. The coalition plans to build the network in phases, and once completed, it will connect public facilities, homes, and businesses along the fiber route. To offer Internet access to subscribers, the Grant County Digital Network Coalition will partner with local company Oregon Telephone Corporation (Ortelco).

Working Together to Solve Connectivity Woes

The local governments, led by John Day, established the Grant County Digital Network Coalition to improve the region's inadequate Internet access. Out of all Oregon counties, Grant County ranks second highest on the Digital Divide Index, a measurement of broadband access disparities, according to a presentation prepared by John Day City Manager Nick Green. In 2017, Green told the Blue Mountain Eagle that average Internet download speeds in Grant County are around 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) and that some people don’t have any access at all to the Internet.

Though the county desperately needs better connectivity, the region’s rugged hills make deploying a broadband network to the small communities difficult. Grant County is also home to Malheur National Forest and other federally owned land, further complicating network construction.

The coalition hopes that closing the digital divide in the county will promote local economic...

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Posted October 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

For all their attempts to tout their accomplishments, the current FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai is failing miserably at the their promise to shrink the digital divide in America. In a recent commentary in The Hill, policy and program manager for Next Century Cities Cat Blake explains how, rather than reducing the gap between Internet haves and have-nots, policy changes under the new administration is making the problem worse. Cat offers a few specific examples of policies and actions taken by the current FCC that have not only aggravated the problem of digital inclusion, but masked the realities of its severity.

Lifeline Under Attack

The federal Lifeline Program offers subsidies for phone and Internet access connections for low-income folks. Blake writes that this tool, one of the most effective in allowing people to obtain access to the Internet, is one of Pai’s targets — a big target:

Pai’s proposed changes would cut off approximately 70 percent of the 10 million program participants — including approximately 44,000 individuals in DC alone — widening the digital divide among the country’s most vulnerable populations. Lifeline is the only federal program that provides subsidies to disadvantaged Americans for 21st century communications services and it is relied upon by victims of domestic violence, military veterans, homeless youth and others to stay connected.

Broadband Deployment

Pai has continuously claimed that the current FCC has “taken significant steps to expand broadband deployment in previously unserved parts of our country.” While the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report offered a six percent increase in the number of people with access to broadband — increasing to 95 percent — Blake notes that the increase wasn’t purely due to deployment:

That 95 percent, however, includes 10.5 million people who have access only to satellite service, which was not considered an adequate broadband connection under former FCC leadership….The agency’s documented expansion of broadband is actually the result of an explicit decision to lower federal standards of acceptable service, as opposed to a change in the amount of Americans actually served by high-speed internet….In...

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