Tag: "digital divide"

Posted November 22, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

ILSR’s Community Broadband Initiative Director Christopher Mitchell recently joined Kimberly Adams on Marketplace Tech to talk about the $65 billion in the infrastructure bill that is being allocated to expanding broadband access. The pandemic exposed many inequities in our economy including the lack of robust Internet connectivity in many rural areas. The infrastructure bill is a start to mending the injustices that have existed in the broadband sector for over a decade. 

The key takeaway from the infrastructure bill, Christopher explains, is “that we are going to see unprecedented investment in rural connectivity, and we have multiple years’ worth of subsidies for low-income families, where they don’t earn enough money to be able to afford the connection that may already be available to them.” 

Vermont, one of the most rural states on the map, is a successful model for developing reliable broadband systems. “They have developed a system in which a lot of the nearby communities can band together. They work with a local provider, and that company will then use the infrastructure that is owned by the community to deliver services across it.”

Building equitable broadband infrastructure is no small feat. Critical components easily get lost in legislation, like affordable connectivity for middle-class Americans. As Christopher puts it, “What about the rest of us?” This is one success, of many, in the long fight for accessible Internet connectivity.

Listen to the episode below, or here.

This story originally appeared on ILSR.org. Read the original here.

Posted November 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

When the FCC announced the winners of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) last December, many industry veterans were surprised by the appearance of LTD Broadband as the largest recipient of funds. The company managed to snag more than $1.3 billion to serve 528,000 locations across 15 states, but its capability to do so immediately drew skepticism from many (including us).

Now, a little less than a year later, the company's chickens are coming home to roost. In a recent ruling denying the company the expanded Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) status it needs to offer service in RDOF-awarded areas, the Iowa Utilities Board took LTD to task for a history of noncompliance and late payments:

Specifically, LTD had not complied with the Board’s February 22, 2019 order, as LTD had not yet filed a registration as a telecommunications service provider, was past due on its DPRS assessment, and had not yet filed an annual report with the Board for reporting years 2019 and 2020. 

[B]eyond the procedural flaws in LTD’s Application, the company’s responses to Board . . . illustrate that LTD has routinely submitted regulatory filings with obvious errors, if filings were submitted at all . . . It is for this reason that the Board takes seriously LTD’s history of inconsistent compliance with this provision, as the regulatory burden is minimal and the consequence of failing to uphold the obligation ETCs pledge to carry out impacts the rest of the industry, the Board, and most importantly, the Iowans served by the program.

But the regulatory board took its comments a step further, basing its ruling also on the fact that the company's behavior in the state betrays what looks like a lack of ability to meet its bidding commitments during the auction:

The record in this docket does not merit the expansion of a credential that signals to the public that LTD has evidenced the technical and financial capabilities required to carry out the public interest obligations of those entrusted with federal funds. LTD’s responses and actions lack the candor that the Board would expect from a carrier seeking to evidence the expertise to take on this degree of expansion.

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Posted November 10, 2021 by Jericho Casper

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.”

“ATMC’s future is in providing our members and customers with the very best high-speed Internet services possible,” said ATMC General Manager and CEO Keith Holden at the company’s...

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Posted October 14, 2021 by Jericho Casper

North Louisiana has more premises unserved with high-speed Internet access than any other region of the state. In an effort to bring reliable Internet access to its members who have gone without service, directors of the Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative (NELPCO) recently agreed to pursue a $54 million fiber buildout. 

During a special meeting called on June 29th, NELPCO’s Board of Directors voted 5-2 to begin providing high-speed Internet access across the seven rural parishes the cooperative serves through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Volt Broadband LLC.

The exact details of the project and how it will be funded are still being worked out. But, the cooperative is preparing to bond for $50 million to deploy fiber infrastructure across its 2,180-square-mile service territory, which runs from “south of Turkey Creek Lake in Franklin Parish north to the Arkansas line, and extends into Morehouse Parish,” according to the cooperative’s website.

Construction of the fiber network will be completed in segments, beginning in the most populated regions and extending to the most rural, to eventually serve all 11,000 co-op members.

The cooperative will put up the majority of its capital credit – $30 million – as collateral to secure the bond. “Capital credits are retained margins left over at the end of the year at nonprofit electric cooperatives such as NELPCO,” Board of Director member Thad Waters told The Franklin Sun. “This is the most significant source of equity for most cooperatives, and capital credits reflect each member's ownership in the cooperative.”

Aiming to Reinvigorate Industry

Positioned in the delta of rich soils between the Ouachita and Mississippi rivers, agriculture has dominated the economy of Louisiana’s northeast region for centuries. Where once cotton was king, driving through the region...

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Posted October 11, 2021 by Maren Machles

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:

Presentations/Discussions:

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.

Posted September 28, 2021 by Jericho Casper

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress and the Biden Administration passed two federal stimulus relief packages with historic levels of funding for programs devoted to advancing digital equity – the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA). 

In early August, legislators in the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package which continues many of the federal programs started by previous relief packages and includes $65 billion more for expanding high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity. Members of Congress returned from their summer break on September 20th and U.S. House Representatives are expected to vote on the infrastructure relief bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, on September 30th.

This guide consolidates the different funding opportunities made available through various relief packages to assist communities interested in accessing federal funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion services. It updates ILSR’s Community Guide to Broadband Funding released in April of 2021, which describes programs established under ARPA and CAA in more detail, provides additional resources and answers FAQs.

Important upcoming deadlines are bolded throughout this guide. 

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – Pending 

Though the legislation is pending in Congress, the version of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the U.S. Senate in August of 2021 includes $65 billion for expanding Internet access and digital inclusion initiatives. The Senate bill takes a more holistic approach to addressing the digital divide than previous relief packages, as it includes historic levels of funding for digital skills training. Of the $65 billion:

  • $42.5 billion is being issued as block grants to states to fund the deployment of broadband infrastructure in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country. Funds can also be utilized to deploy affordable networks...
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Posted August 25, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Cuyahoga County, Ohio (pop. 1.23 million), encompassing Cleveland and the surrounding area along the bottom edge of Lake Erie, has released a new Request for Proposals (RFP) as part of its ongoing effort to "expand affordable, high-speed broadband services to those lacking Internet access." Sustainable solutions are the focus of the RFP, with particular emphasis given to economically disadvantaged communities and approaches that can not only offer low-cost or free options but convince households to sign up for service.

Proposals are due September 8th at 11am ET.

The RFP is just the latest effort as part of the Office of Innovation and Performance's effort to closing the digital divide in the city and surrounding area. It notes that:

Cuyahoga County is one of the worst-connected communities in the U.S., with 19 percent of households in the County without any type of Internet service, including mobile data plans. About 32 percent of households in the County do not have a broadband connection at home, and 69 percent of these households have annual incomes below $35,000. 

The RFP and two subsequently released addenda (addendum 1 and addendum 2) indicate that a wide variety of options are being considered to address the connectivity challenges across the three different tiers of wireline coverage across the county (see map below. Red areas indicate that less than 60 percent of census tracts have basic broadband, peach areas indicate that 60-80 percent of census tracts have coverage, the yellow and grey hatched...

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Posted August 23, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A month ago we announced the launch of Let's Broadband Together, a coalition of organizations and advocacy groups led by Consumer Reports to collect as many broadband bills as possible and crowdsource the data necessary to fight the trend towards deliberately confusing, obfuscatory broadband pricing in the United States.

If you've had the intention to help out but were looking for that reminder, here it is. Head over to Let's Broadband Together and take a speed tests, submit a PDF of your bill, and answer a few questions. More submissions mean a better the dataset and more comprehensive evidence to support reform. 

Click here to begin, and join Consumer Reports, ILSR, and dozens of other organizations. 

 

Posted August 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Springfield prides itself as a “City of Firsts.” Located in central Massachusetts, 90 miles west of Boston, Springfield is where the nation’s first armory was located and where the first U.S.-made automobile was built. It’s also the birthplace of basketball and Theodor Geisel, better known by his pen name “Dr. Seuss.”

Last month, the city took its first step to explore whether it will become the first of New England’s five biggest cities to build a municipal fiber-to-the-home network.

Channeling Dr. Seuss, who famously wrote “only you can control your future,” city officials are in the process of issuing a Request for Proposals to conduct a feasibility study to explore if Springfield (est. pop. 154,000) will control its digital future by meeting “the growing demand for reliable and affordable Internet service.”

According to a press release issued by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s office, “the study would review such items including but not limited to the current Internet equipment and infrastructure in place across the city, gauge public interest, provide a cost analysis on infrastructure investment, review and assess maintenance cost, possible revenue sources, and exploring potential public/private partnerships and collaborations for the benefit of consumers.”

Pandemic Exposed Digital Chasm

The city is currently served by Comcast Xfinity and Verizon DSL. But, according to City Councilor Jesse Lederman, a leading advocate for better broadband in Springfield, the pandemic exposed a growing digital divide in the city while surrounding communities are increasingly being served by fiber networks.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made a few things very clear,” Lederman told WAMC public radio. “The Internet has become an essential utility for residents and businesses. During COVID...

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Posted July 21, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

As Senators involved in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework are negotiating over legislative language on how to spend $65 billion aimed at expanding high-speed Internet connectivity in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country, a new joint report has been published by Common Cause and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) that details the massive influence Big Telecom has on Congress.

The 21-page report – Broadband Gatekeepers: How ISP Lobbying and Political Influence Shapes the Digital Divide – examines the political spending and lobbying efforts of the nation’s largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as well as their trade associations, and connects the dots on how some of the most despised companies in America have helped create the digital divide.

The report begins by noting how “major broadband providers, both telecom and cable, have chosen not to build their networks to areas they deem less profitable and not to upgrade many existing customers left behind by outdated technology. These choices entrench the far too wide digital divide and mean Americans pay some of the highest prices for service. At the same time, the largest ISPs have used their outsized influence in Congress to block any legislation that would undermine their stranglehold over the broadband marketplace. In the 116th Congress alone, these corporations spent an astounding $234 million on lobbying and federal elections.”

That’s an average of more than $320,000 a day, seven days a week, as the report’s authors note.

America’s ‘Most Hated’ Companies Lobby to Maintain Monopoly Power

Although policymakers have proposed reforms that would close the digital divide, the report says, “the (telecom) industry is on Capitol Hill spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fight against legislation that would fund the deployment of future-proof networks, promote competition, mandate higher minimum speed...

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