Tag: "digital divide"

Posted December 17, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

For the tenth episode of our special podcast series “Why NC Broadband Matters,” we’re talking about the an innovative Building a New Digital Economic (BAND-NC) grant program, which provides funds to support devices, subscriptions, and digital skills training to communities across North Carolina. The program disbursed its first round of money to 29 projects across 39 counties this summer, and is planning a second round of funding right now.

To talk about how it came about and the impact it’s having, Christopher speaks with Maggie Woods, Policy and Program Manager at the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State, Amy Huffman, Digital Inclusion and Policy Manager within the Broadband Infrastructure Office in the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, and Arlayne Gordon-Bray, IZone Community Engagement and Industry Partner at Edgecombe Public Schools.

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We produced this episode and the “Why NC Broadband Matters” series in partnership with NC Broadband Matters, a nonprofit organization advocating for better connectivity across North Carolina.

This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or with the tool of your choice using this feed, at the Community Broadband Bits page, or at the NC Broadband Matters page. We encourage you to check out other "Why NC Broadband Matters" content at the podcast feed so you don't miss future bonus content that may not appear in the Community Broadband Bits Podcast feed.

Transcript coming soon.

Listen to other Community Broadband Bits episodes here or view all episodes...

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Posted December 17, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

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.

The problem lies with the FCC’s existing Form 477, which seeks service availability data from ISPs. There’s widespread agreement that the form gleans data that is inaccurate, outdated, and misconstrued, as we detail here...

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Posted December 16, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s Office of Innovation and Performance just issued a Request for Information (RFI) [pdf] which seeks to gather information from private vendors in the initial stages of a plan to improve connectivity for those on the wrong side of the broadband gap in Cleveland and the surrounding area. Responses are due January 15th.

Grace Chu, Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellow with the Cuyahoga County Office of Innovation & Performance, spoke with us about the origins of the RFI and what the county hopes to get out of the request. The county released a new strategic plan in 2017, and broadband played a prominent role. In the time since, the county has partnered with local organizations (like DigitalC and PCs for People) in distributing devices and hotspots to get families connected. Their efforts have intensified during in 2020 and in the wake of the pandemic, but local officials seek a longer term, more comprehensive solution to the connectivity crisis. It sees projects coming to fruition over the next couple of years.

In the announcement, County Executive Armond Budish emphasized the scope of the digital divide and how the efforts they’ve taken during the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic:

Sadly, Cuyahoga County is one of the worst connected communities in the U.S., with 19 percent of households not having any type of internet service. While we’ve been working to lessen the digital divide through partnerships with the Cleveland Foundation and PCs for People—we provided broadband access to over 3,000 homes through this initiative—this RFI allows us to work toward a more long-term solution that can reach more people and provide easier access for those who need it.

In the request, the county signals its willingness to consider “a wide range of construction, operation, ownership, and financing options associated with public-private agreements, non-exclusive franchises, and other appropriate alternatives in its evaluation of business models to pursue. This includes creative solutions maximizing the efficiency of total investments by all parties while providing the scope of work...

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Posted December 11, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

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)

The first thing the legislation does is requires the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG) within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The new office, which would be allocated a $26 million annual budget, would run point on federal outreach to communities who lack access, or need better broadband access, via regional workshops, trainings, and the drafting of reports that would provide guidance on best-practices.

The office would also be required to track federal spending on any broadband related expenditures, as well as coordinate with other federal agencies to conduct a study on how affordability factors into households’ lack of connectivity...

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Posted December 9, 2020 by Christopher Mitchell

The FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund results are a puzzle. RDOF was the recent auction for large swaths of rural areas of the U.S. that have no broadband access, in large part because they were the territories of big companies like AT&T, CenturyLink (now rebranding as Lumen in hopes of improving its dismal image among its subscribers), Frontier, Windstream, and others. Up to $16 billion was at stake though the auction will actually disperse some $9+ billion dollars because many areas were bid well below what was expected. 

Please understand that this post is the best I can do right now - this is confusing and we are sorting our way through it. Please let me know if you can help us understand it. See our past coverage for more information.

The auction resulted in far more gigabit - 85% of locations I believe - than anyone expected, at far lower subsidy than expected. However, there is a lot of frustration and confusion because it is not clear that some of the top bidders can deliver. NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association - shared my original enthusiasm for RDOF and our concerns - best articulated over the years by Jon Chambers from Conexon - that the FCC was going to blow this auction by not ensuring those who bid had the capacity to deliver on the promised level of service. Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, wrote this and recently tweeted on this:

Doug Dawson, President of CCG Consulting, has addressed this in the...

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Posted December 7, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In a new case study, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance explores the wide-ranging community benefits of Greenlight, the city-owned Fiber-to-the-Home network in Wilson, North Carolina. The case study details how it has been able to quickly adapt and expand service during the pandemic.

Built in 2008 with an eye toward the future and operated with local priorities in mind, Greenlight has a long track record of putting people first. A few examples are:

Access for All

  • In 2016, Greenlight began a partnership with the Wilson Housing Authority (WHA) to connect hundreds of public housing residents to $10/month low-cost fast Internet access.
  • The network targets barriers to service adoption that go beyond cost, including a flexpay system which allows users to prepay for Internet access instead of requiring large deposits or a credit check. It also allows users to load funds into their account for individual days of network access.

Economic Development

  • Greenlight has been named as a key factor in Wilson’s economic revitalization.
  • Wilson’s fiber infrastructure has helped local businesses succeed and is a factor in the relocation of new companies to the area. In 2019, Wilson was ranked the 10th best small city in the country to start a business.
  • In 2016, Greenlight began co-sponsoring the GigEast Exchange Conference. The GigEast Exchange serves as a technology hub, incubator, and networking space for everyone in the community.

Education

  • All schools in the county were connected to the network by 2012.
  • In 2019, Greenlight partnered with Wilson Community College to develop a curriculum to train the next generation of network technicians and managers.
  • Throughout the pandemic, Greenlight has gone even further to support its community. When schools quickly converted to remote learning in the spring of 2020, the network installed more than 3,000 feet of fiber to make sure a local history teacher, Michelle Galloway, could teach from home. The network has also made its Lifeline program permanent, offering basic video conference-capable connections for $10/month for residents to activate as needed.

Read the...

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Posted December 2, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

As House GOP leaders ask the Government Accountability Office to audit the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect program because of concerns federal funds are being used to “overbuild,” Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have filed legislation that aims to build broadband infrastructure on a national-scale.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is a bill that harkens back to when the federal government – through FDR’s Rural Electrification Administration, established in 1935, and the Rural Electrification Act, passed by Congress in 1936 – invested in local cooperatives and brought electricity to the abundance of Americans still living in candle-lit homes without electrically-powered refrigerators.

The proposed legislation may well frame the Democratic agenda on broadband moving forward, as the Biden administration enters the White House in January. It’s a bold bill that has garnered the support of a who’s-who of broadband experts and advocacy organizations from Public Knowledge, the National Consumer Law Center and New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute to the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

Breaking it Down

There’s a lot to unpack in this bill, which is why we are publishing a series of posts exploring the major sections contained in the proposed legislation. This first installment is the 30,000-foot view. Forthcoming posts will examine the legislative details where the devil – or the better angels – can be found.

Broadly, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act calls for a $100 billion investment to build high-speed broadband infrastructure that targets unserved and underserved parts of the country. It aims to ensure that every household has affordable and reliable access to online education, telemedicine, remote work, and other business opportunities in which Internet connectivity can no longer be considered a mere luxury, but a necessity.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the legislation, which...

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Posted December 1, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

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. 

The Good

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.

Each project is eligible for awards of up to $1 million for each project, requiring a 50% match, and helpfully, the program remains open...

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Posted November 30, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

The failure of policy and leadership at the federal level in addressing the digital divide was ever more clearly exposed as Covid-19 restrictions were put into place last spring. And, as the pandemic continues to rage, daunting connectivity challenges remain. 

Yes, the Connect America Fund (CAF) II program has doled out over $11 billion since 2015 in subsidies to the big telcos like AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, Windstream, and Consolidated ostensibly to upgrade rural broadband to speeds of at least 10/1 Megabits per second (Mbps). But, as Doug Dawson, president of CCG Consulting notes, it’s been a massive subsidy failure given that “even in 2015, it was ludicrous to spend money to build 10/1 Mbps broadband” – the same year the FCC defined broadband as 25/3 Mbps, which means “the FCC was investing in new Internet infrastructure in 2015 that didn’t qualify as broadband at the time of the award of funding.”

And there is reason to doubt that those subsidized upgrades were even completed, even as the FCC just extended the CAF II program for a seventh year.

So as states — and in many instances, local municipalities — step into the breach, the National Governors Association has released a new report that outlines a list of strategies governors can use to increase broadband access in underserved communities. 

Published just before Thanksgiving, the report first lays out the challenge:

According to the FCC, in 2018, at least 18.3 million people lacked access to fixed broadband in the United States that meets minimum [I]nternet access speed of 25/3. 1 Of those 18.3 million people, representing 6 percent of the total population, 14 million live in rural areas and 1 million live on Tribal lands, which amounts to 22 percent and 28 percent of those respective geographic populations [even as] studies have claimed that the FCC data is undercounting the number of people in the U.S. without fixed broadband access, and that the total may be as high as 42 million people.

“In addition to lack of access, the cost of broadband services remains a considerable barrier for many households,” the report points out. “The COVID-19 pandemic has...

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Posted November 25, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Palmdale, California is considering a proposal from SiFi Networks to become a FiberCity. The project would see $600 million from the private infrastructure builder to construct 800 miles of fiber and lease it on an open access basis, as well as provide the infrastructure necessary for smart city applications and 5g. 

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