Tag: "digital divide"

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 are 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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Posted February 10, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Last week we published a new case study report on four Native Nations (the Coeur d’Alene, the Nez Perce, the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, and the St. Regis Mohawk) who set out to build their own broadband networks after being left behind for decades by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the region. At the same time, we launched a new resource documenting existing Native Nations Networks with some key resources for others in Indian Country considering their own.

Read more from report author H. Trostle in a recent article in High Country News about the goals of the study, the connectivity challenges for tribes, the importance of Spectrum Sovereignty in getting those communities connected, and the creativity and persistence it has taken to get these networks off the ground so that those communities have opportunities to live, learn, and work online. 

Two recent pieces from American Public Media’s Marketplace Tech add welcome additional emphasis on the importance of these issues. The first, published Monday, profiles the progress made in building a wireless network by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Northwest Montana, bringing broadband to 1,300 square miles in the region, and one of the first success stories to come out in part as a result of the FCC’s 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window last year. 

The second, an interview with Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, highlights just how big the need is for connectivity solutions for Indian Country. With Molly Wood, he discusses the possibilities offered by the new administration and the potential impact of the $1 billion in funds in the current version of the Coronavirus...

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Posted February 3, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

It’s February, which means the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) is once again taking applications for the 2021 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Awards. The deadline is February 12th. 

From the announcement:

Named for Charles Benton, the founder of Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, NDIA created the awards to recognize leadership and dedication in advancing digital equity: from promoting the ideal of accessible and affordable communications technology for all Americans to crafting programs and policies that make it a reality.

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.” 

Winners will be chosen based on their past work and commitment to advancing digital equity across the country. Nomination will be judged according to individuals’:

  • Sustained commitment to digital inclusion programs, practices, and/or policy work
  • Applied innovative approaches to addressing and solving problems
  • Extensive use of data and evaluation to shape digital inclusion programs and share best practices
  • Demonstrated leadership in his/her community, and/or
  • Collaboration that can be scaled and replicated

Winners will be announced at the upcoming Net Inclusion webinar series, which runs from April 7th to May 26th. You can register for the event here.

Past winners include Rebecca F. Kauma, Economic and Digital Inclusion Program Manager at The City of Long Beach, for her work on leading more equitable economic and digital inclusion outcomes for the city’s low-income neighborhoods and community of color, and Deb Socia, CEO of the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee....

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Posted January 13, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A new report out by CTC Technology and Energy and Rural Innovation Strategies, commissioned by the state of Vermont, gives us one of the clearest and most detailed pictures so far of the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on our attempts to live and work remotely. 

The “Covid-19 Responses Telecommunications Recovery Plan” [pdf], presented to the state in December 2020, includes both a comprehensive survey of conditions after a half-year of social distancing and intermittent lockdowns as well as recommendations for addressing immediate needs. But it offers solutions that provide a path forward by making sure that dollars spent now are in service to the state’s long-term goals of getting everyone in the Green Mountain State on fast, affordable wireline broadband service at speeds of at least 100/100 Megabits per second (Mbps). 

The report brings together network performance assessments from every level of government across the state over the last six months, pairs it with survey responses from citizens, libraries, hospitals, businesses, regional development corporations, and Communications Union Districts (CUDs), and offers analysis based on conditions for moving forward.

“Covid-19 has laid bare the challenges of lack of universal broadband in Vermont,” the report says, with “inequities in the availability and affordability of broadband create further inequities in areas such as education, telehealth, and the ability to work from home.” It offers a wealth of findings:

  • Broadband use has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic, as would be expected. For example, respondents to an online poll report increased use of the Internet for telemedicine (an increase from 19 percent to 75 percent) and for civic engagement (an increase from 33 percent to 74 percent). Additionally, 62 percent of respondents use the Internet for teleworking on a daily basis, compared with 21 percent of respondents before the pandemic.
  • Overall, satisfaction with Internet service aspects has decreased during the pandemic, particularly for speed and reliability of service. More than one-half of respondents are not at all satisfied (approximately one-third) or are only slightly satisfied (approximately one-fifth) with connection speed and reliability during the pandemic.
  • Many municipalities have...
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Posted January 5, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In August we first covered the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s new Digital Navigator’s program, which provides a best-practices model for organizations looking to use local resources to help neighbors learn the skills and overcome their reluctance to getting online. This week on the podcast Christopher welcomes Paolo Balboa, Program Manager at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Shauna Edson Digital Inclusion Coordinator, at the Salt Lake City Public Library to dive deeper into the program and talk about lessons learned so far.

The group dives right into what digital equity means both in policy and practice, and how we can be more thoughtful about both. Paolo shares the history behind the idea of the NDIA’s Digital Navigator Program and how it came to fruition, helpfully, right at the start of the pandemic. 

Shauna talks about the challenges Digital Navigators confront head on in communities, from helping residents overcome lack of familiarity with new devices, to learning to navigate the web, to connecting with local resources. Both Shauna and Paolo stress that successful forward progress will come from the presence of ongoing programs staffed by fellow community members, and Shauna shares the progress made in Salt Lake City so far.

This show is 32 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 Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for this episode.

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

Listen to ...

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Posted December 23, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

If you have been following our series on the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act, you already know the proposed legislation calls for a $100 billion investment in expanding broadband access and affordability in unserved and underserved parts of the country. In this fourth installment of the series, we explore the part of the bill that contains the bulk of the funding. Of the $100 billion proposed in the bill, $85 billion of it can be found in the Title III - Broadband Access section.

Amending the Communications Act of 1934, Section 3101 of the bill appropriates $80 billion for “competitive bidding systems” to subsidize broadband infrastructure. That is to say, it requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and states, to use “competitive bidding systems” for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bid on broadband deployment projects in “areas with service below 25/25 Megabits per second (Mbps), and areas with low-tier service, defined as areas with service between 25/25 and 100/100 Mbps.” The term “competitive bidding” seems to suggest a reverse auction process, though it hardly makes sense for each state to set up such a system given the logistical challenges. A legislative staffer responded to our email earlier this year saying he believed that language would allow for state programs that solicited applications from ISPs and scored them for evaluation, much like Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program operates. However, he noted that the FCC would interpret that language ultimately. More on this below. 

Prioritizing Higher Upload Speeds

It’s worth noting that this part of the bill implicitly acknowledges the insufficiency of the current FCC definition of a minimum broadband speed of 25/3 Mbps. As it stands now, the FCC defines “unserved areas” as parts of the country where there is either no Internet access or broadband speeds under 25/3. This legislation raises the bar and broadens the definition of “unserved areas.” It’s a step in the...

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Posted December 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

2020 is nearly over, and it's that time of the year we sit back with a cold glass of eggnog and reflect on what was, what is, what might have been, and what will be. In this episode the Community Broadband Bits podcast the MuniNetworks team cranks up Zoom for the zillionth time this month to review our previous years' predictions to see who swung the hardest and missed back in 2019, and who might be hiding a secret gift at prognostication that would put Zoltar to shame.

With the departure of Lisa and Katie, GIS and Data Researcher Michelle Andrews is the only one who must reckon with her predictions head on. Also on the show are two recent arrivals: Senior Writer and Editor Sean Gonsalves, and Senior Researcher Ry Marcattilio-McCracken. Hannah Trostle returns from a short hiatus as well, to offer insight and secretly watch Chris to make sure he hasn't turned into a total despot. During the show we talk state preemption laws, progress by municipal networks, electric cooperatives, and county governments in expanding affordable broadband, the recent RDOF auction, New Hampshire, Sean's water feature, and our favorite stories of the year. 

This show is 50 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 Community Broadband Bits page.

Transcript coming soon.

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

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or ...

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