Tag: "digital divide"

Posted April 9, 2021 by Jericho Casper

With all the buzz around the prioritization of municipal and cooperative broadband networks in the American Jobs Plan unveiled by President Biden last week, let’s not forget about one leading voice in Congress calling for broadband for all. 

Last year, with assistance from the House Rural Broadband Task Force he created, Rep. James Clyburn, D-SC, introduced the Affordable, Accessible Internet for All (AAIA) Act, a bold bill that proposed a $100 billion investment to build high-speed Internet infrastructure in unserved and underserved parts of the country. 

Although the legislation stalled in the Mitch McConnell-led U.S. Senate prior to the 2020 election, it did set the Democratic agenda on broadband moving forward. Now, as the Biden Administration has settled into the White House and with Democrats in control of Congress, Clyburn has reintroduced a slightly slimmed down $94 billion AAIA, alongside companion legislation in the U.S. Senate sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN.

If it passes, the bill would be a game changer, as it goes beyond funding high-speed Internet infrastructure to attack the digital divide from essentially every angle. The bill includes funding and dedicated support to address barriers that prevent millions of Americans from having access to affordable, high-speed Internet connectivity. It backs measures that would encourage pricing transparency, promote Internet adoption and digital literacy initiatives, guarantee affordability, and protect the rights of workers who would build the networks. 

While all of these measures are critical, one of the most important requirements included in the revamped legislation is for input from local, state and Tribal governments to be taken into account when determining what projects AAIA will fund. 

Engaging local governments and local digital equity organizations in determining how billions of dollars in federal grants should be distributed may seem like second nature, yet in previous federal programs the views of these organizations, which understand the digital needs of their surrounding communities the most, have largely not been taken into consideration. Failing to consult with these...

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Posted April 6, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

This week’s community broadband state legislative roundup revisits and provides updates on important bills moving through the state legislatures in Washington, Oklahoma, and California.  

The State Scene 

Washington 

We’ve been closely covering S.B. 5383 and H.B. 1336, two bills in Washington state that would give Public Utilities Districts (PUDs) and port districts the authority to offer retail telecommunications services.

Our initial coverage pointed out shortcomings in S.B. 5383. The bill originally contained a preemption clause that gave private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the power to reject PUDs’ and ports’ project proposals in areas where incumbent ISPs claim they plan to expand service within six months. 

Since our last reporting on this piece of legislation, the bill was amended by the State House Community and Economic Development Committee, removing the veto authority initially given to existing ISPs. However, a new provision favoring incumbent cable ISPs was also added, which would prohibit a PUD or port from providing retail Internet services in an area where an existing provider offers service at a minimum of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed. The minimum speed requirements of this provision would be increased to stay consistent with Washington’s state definition of broadband.

The Committee also amended the bill to allow PUDs and ports to provide retail services in served areas, but only when building to reach an unserved region. 

H.B. 1336, which aims to allow PUDs, ports, cities, towns, and counties to provide Internet access services on a retail basis, was amended by Washington’s Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on March 25 to increase the requirements that must be met by counties, cities, and towns before they...

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Posted March 31, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Join us for Episode 9 of Connect This!, where hosts Christopher Mitchell and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Joanne Hovis (President, CTC Energy and Technology) and Doug Dawson (President, CCG Consulting) to talk about the recently signed American Rescue Plan Act, which has the potential to funnel an unprecedented level of funding to communities which can be used for Internet infrastructure.

Together they'll talk about what can be done with this money, what restrictions exist, and how communities can ready themselves to embark upon broadband projects quickly. Christopher, Travis, Joanne, and Doug will also explore the viability of the variety of technologies available for deployment, and what it would look like for local officials to boldly take the reins and move the needle on locally owned information infrastructure for their communities.

The show will begin on Monday, April 5th at 4pm ET/3pm CT via this link, or watch below.

Subscribe to the show using this feed

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show.

Posted March 26, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance's Net Inclusion conference this year is a webinar series, running eight consecutive weeks between April 7 and May 26. One-hour webinars at 1pm ET on Wednesday each week will feature a diverse cast of policy experts, advocates, city officials, and nonprofits to talk about what's going on at the local and state level. Register free here.

The first panel, titled "The Structural Racism Behind Digital Inequity," will feature Chrissie Powell (Executive Director, Byte Back Baltimore), James Walker, II (Founder/CEO, Informative Technologies Inc.), Quincy B. (Founder & Director, EraseTheRedline Inc.), and Rebecca Kauma (Economic and Digital Inclusion Program Manager, City of Long Beach). The panel will be moderated by Alisa Valentin (Special Advisor, Office of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks). 

See the list of subsequent panels below:

  • April 14th: Digital Navigators: Models, Partners, Assessment, and Funding
  • April 21st: Coalitions and Digital Equity Planning
  • April 28th: Local Government and State Digital Inclusion Funding, Offices, Coordination, and Policy
  • May 5th: Weaving Digital Inclusion into Existing Community and Government Programs
  • May 12th: Partnering with Healthcare Organizations to Increase Digital Equity
  • May 19th: Filling the Gap – Building Subsidized & Affordable Broadband

During the final event on May 26th, the NDIA will announce the winners of this year's Digital Equity Benton Awards. Two awards will be handed out this year. The first is the Digital Equity Champion, which “will recognize an outstanding individual who has made a difference in the field of digital equity.” The Emerging Leader Award, on the other hand, will “acknowledge an up-and-coming digital inclusion practitioner.” 

Read more about the awards here.

Register free here.

Posted March 24, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

One component of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 was the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a $3.2 billion program designed to get families connected to available service that they otherwise might not be able to afford. The program provides a subsidy of up to $50/month for service (or $75 for tribal lands) as well as up to $100 for a device (with a household contribution) for as long as the money lasts.

On Episode 8 of Connect This!, hosts Christopher Mitchell and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by Angela Siefer (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) and Olivia Wein (National Consumer Law Center) to talk about how it will work and what their expectations are, including who will be able to take advantage of the program and what problems there might be for both the people who need it and the small ISPs that would like to participate. 

During the course of the discussion the panel talks about: eligibility requirements; the challenge of standing up a program quickly and making it available to the widest number of people possible; USI Fiber’s experience so far in becoming an eligible provider; the device benefit available, and how providers can forge partnerships with groups like PCs for People to get hardware into homes; the need for digital navigators to help community members navigate the process of getting and staying online; and the long-term prospects for renewal of the program.

Mentioned during the episode was a recent study by Professor Lloyd Levine from the School of Public Policy, University of California, Riverside, California, on outreach programs (paywall).

Watch via this link, or watch below.

Subscribe to the show using this feed

Email us at broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show. 

 

Posted March 22, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

One component of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 was the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a $3.2 billion program designed to get families connected to available service that they otherwise might not be able to afford. The program provides a subsidy of up to $50/month for service (or $75 for tribal lands) as well as up to $100 for a device (with a household contribution) for as long as the money lasts.

Join us for Episode 8 of Connect This!, where hosts Christopher Mitchell and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Angela Siefer (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) and Olivia Wein (National Consumer Law Center) to talk about how it will work and what our expectations are, including who will be able to take advantage of it and what problems there might be for both the people who need it and the small ISPs that would like to participate. 

The show will begin on Wednesday, March 24th at 1pm CST/2pm ET via this link, or watch below.

Subscribe to the show using this feed

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show. 

Posted March 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The Building a New Digital Economy (BAND-NC) program in North Carolina will give out 30 more microgrants this spring and summer to community anchor institutions, nonprofits, and local governments so that the latter can develop digital inclusion plans. The program is part of the state's goal to ensure that "North Carolina the first state in the nation where every county has a digital inclusion plan in place."

Posted March 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Is a major metropolitan Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network on the horizon for one of the Sunshine State’s most populous cities?

Longtime Jacksonville, Florida (pop. 890,000) resident Eric Geller is spearheading a citizen-led effort to rally residents and officials around a vision that would catapult Jacksonville into the fiber-connected frontier of Internet access and reinvigorate the economy of a city that was once known as the "Bold New City of the South."

As an IT consultant and former public policy research analyst, from Geller’s tech-savvy perspective the key is for the city’s utility company, JEA, to move beyond providing electricity, water, and sewer services and expand into building the necessary Internet infrastructure that would give all Jacksonville residents access to reliable and truly high-speed connectivity.

“Nationally, it’s been well accepted that we are at a point where the Internet is absolutely mandatory. Every business and home has to be connected,” Geller said in a recent interview with WJCT Radio, noting how the pandemic has made it clear that universal access to broadband is nearly as important as running water and electricity.

JEA’s Dark Fiber Infrastructure

If it’s a pipe dream, it’s one with light at the end — if Jacksonville residents can first see and appreciate all the dark. That is to say, the city’s existing dark fiber network, or the unused capacity of the fiber optic cables JEA has already deployed and how it could be leveraged and lit up to serve as the backbone for a citywide FTTH network.

JEA already leases routes to businesses along its 500-mile fiber optic network spanning the Jacksonville metropolitan area, which includes all of Duval Country and parts of St. Johns and Nassau Counties. In fact, with all that underground (and overhead) fiber already in place, Jacksonville can boast of having “more fiber in the ground than any city in Northeast Florida,” much of it passing through vital commercial and industrial parts of the city.

In a recent op-ed...

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Posted March 10, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

HiLight — Hillsboro, Oregon’s (pop. 105,000) citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network — has officially launched and begun connecting its first subscribers. After five years of consideration and planning, it’s an exciting moment, with hundreds of homes and businesses brought online over the last few months. Over the next seven years, at least $28 million will be put towards the rollout, bringing the municipal network to tens of thousands of locations across the city.

Hillsboro sits just outside of Portland, and has been looking for better connectivity options for years. A large proportion of its population is comprised of tech workers and residents with advanced degrees; the city, in fact, anchors the state’s Silicon Forest, so named for the group of technology firms employing tens of thousands of workers across three Intel campuses as well as operations by Oracle, Salesforce, Epson, and Synopsis. A citywide fiber network serves to provide competition and capacity to keep them in the area:

Hillsboro is the tallest tree in the Silicon Forest and the center of Oregon’s high-tech cluster. With an affordable high-speed network, Hillsboro’s homegrown talent — our students and entrepreneurs — will be better positioned to lead the world in innovating for the future. Hillsboro will continue to attract and retain talent and be a hub for innovation.

But Hillsboro also faces a stark digital divide fueled by economic inequality, and bridging it has been one of the city council’s (and now the network’s) main agenda items. This has driven the project’s second focus: bringing affordable, high-quality access to economically vulnerable residents stuck with no quality options today. It’s why the city has introduced one of the fastest low-cost access program we’ve seen established by any broadband network in the United States, with qualifying families getting access to symmetrical gigabit service for $10/month.

Putting Glass in the Ground

We’ve been following Hillsboro’s journey over the past few years. In 2014, the city council began studying...

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Posted March 2, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The Thompson School District (TSD), which serves Loveland, Colorado and the surrounding area, just received a $731,000 grant to bring Internet access to families in need in two surrounding communities.

Families living in areas near Big Thompson Canyon and the Lago Vista Mobile Home Park where wireline broadband has been “significantly limited or not available” will see the expansion of Pulse — the city’s municipal fiber network — into those communities, bringing the promise of fast and affordable service in the near future.

The funds to expand the network come from the Connecting Colorado Students Grant Program, passed in 2020 to address the broadband gap for k-12 students and their teachers. School districts, charter schools, and federally recognized tribes that operate public schools in the state are all eligible for the $20 million pot of money. Priority is given to applications that promise to bring broadband access to high numbers of students enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs who do not have access to wireline broadband, based on American Community Survey data.

The first round of awards in 2020 distributed almost $1.3 million to 25 applicants, with a focus on hotspots and subsidized broadband service. Some of the awards, however, went to new infrastructure, including wireless and wireline projects that will ultimately benefit thousands of students and their families. 

Bringing Students Online

Lago Vista Mobile Home Park, which is about halfway between the cities of Loveland and Fort Collins, was built in 1972 and encompasses 299 units that is home to about 1,000 residents. While most of the residents own their homes, they still pay the park — owned by a California-based investor — almost $500/month to rent the land and pay for utility services. Other mobile home parks in the area are serviced by the city’s public utility. 

The other community that will be connected to the...

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